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Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on non-COVID-19 publications

      COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the world. Health systems were not the only ones being disturbed. Many collateral effects have been reported, such as familial, academical, social, political and economic troubles.
      • Paes-Sousa R.
      • Millett C.
      • Rocha R.
      • Barreto M.L.
      • Hone T.
      Science misuse and polarised political narratives in the COVID-19 response.
      In contrast, scientific research has never been so dynamic, allowing to create effective vaccines in less than one year.
      • Jackson L.A.
      • Anderson E.J.
      • Rouphael N.G.
      • et al.
      An mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 — preliminary report.
      However, we hypothesized that there was a price to pay even in the field of scientific research. Thus, we aimed to evaluate the debt induced on medical publications getting out of the field of COVID-19 pandemic.
      We chose to analyze the main journals publishing in medical specialties that were the most directly facing the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., internal/general, emergency, critical care, respiratory and infectious disease medicine. Therefore, we selected the three journals from each specialty with the highest impact factor (2018), regardless of their potential specific scopes. We compared the total number of papers indexed in the last 6 months (Pubmed – June 1st to November 24th, 2020) with those indexed in the same period in 2019. The goal was to study the changes in the number of papers, the space dedicated to COVID-19 pandemic in each specialty, and the remaining space allocated to non-COVID-19 papers.
      In all medical editions, we recorded 718,367 papers published in 2019 and 865,567 (+20%) in 2020. The number of COVID-19 ones reached 60,600 (8%). Among selected journals, the total number of articles was highly variable in both, specialties and journals (p < 0.0001), same as the ratio of COVID-19 papers (p < 0.0001). The global increase was maximal in critical care medicine (+75%) and infectious diseases journals (+113%), peaking at 163%. The respiratory medicine journals group had the highest ratio of COVID-19 articles (53%), peaking at 75%. After data weighting, a drastic decrease in non-COVID-19 papers appeared in emergency, generalist, and respiratory medicine journals (−22%, −34% and −43%, respectively). Results are detailed in Table 1.
      Table 1Number of papers published in 2019 and 2020 (Pubmed – June 1st to November 24th) by specialties directly facing COVID-19 pandemic; ratio of COVID-19 papers and impact on non-COVID-19 ones.
      SpecialtyJournalImpact factor (2018)2019 (n)2020 (n (% vs. 2019))COVID (n (%))Weighted for non-COVID papers
      General medicineNew Engl J Med70.7742889 (+20%)272 (31%)−17%
      Lancet59.1874735 (−16%)269 (37%)−47%
      JAMA51.3869882 (+1%)313 (35%)−35%
      Total24852506 (+1%)854 (34%)−34%
      Emergency medicineAnn Emerg Med5.3305278 (−9%)38 (14%)−21%
      Resuscitation4.6328340 (+4%)66 (19%)−16%
      Emergencias3.44246 (+10%)11 (24%)−17%
      Total675632 (−6%)108 (17%)−22%
      Critical care medicineIntensive Care Med19280313 (+12%)113 (36%)−29%
      Am J Respir Crit Care Med16.5355695 (+96%)152 (22%)+53%
      Chest9.7338694 (+105%)92 (13%)+78%
      Total9731702 (+75%)357 (21%)+38%
      Respiratory medicineLancet Respir Med16.5186153 (−18%)113 (74%)−78%
      J Thorac Oncol12.5240204 (−15%)152 (75%)−78%
      Eur Respir J11.8282500 (+77%)150 (30%)+24%
      Total708857 (+21%)452 (53%)−43%
      Infectious diseasesLancet Infect Dis27.5285399 (+40%)157 (39%)−15%
      Lancet HIV14.8203276 (+36%)33 (12%)+20%
      Clin Infect Dis97221906 (+164%)492 (26%)+96%
      Total12102581 (+113%)682 (26%)+57%
      All together48418278 (+71%)2453 (30%)+20%
      In many journals among those selected, the global increase in the number of papers published did not compensate the place specifically dedicated to COVID-19 papers. Consequently, the publication of non-COVID-19 papers might have been slowed down, or even stopped, particularly in emergency, generalist or respiratory medicine editions. The result seems to be much more related to journal policy than to specialty strategy.
      • The Lancet null
      COVID-19: a stress test for trust in science.
      Physicians, researchers and editors should be aware of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on medical research, and should not underestimate its impact.
      • The Lancet null
      COVID-19: a stress test for trust in science.
      • Benjamens S.
      • de Meijer V.E.
      • Pol R.A.
      • Haring M.P.D.
      Are all voices heard in the COVID-19 debate?.

      Funding

      None.

      Conflict of interest

      None declared.

      References

        • Paes-Sousa R.
        • Millett C.
        • Rocha R.
        • Barreto M.L.
        • Hone T.
        Science misuse and polarised political narratives in the COVID-19 response.
        Lancet. 2020; 396: 1635-1636
        • Jackson L.A.
        • Anderson E.J.
        • Rouphael N.G.
        • et al.
        An mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 — preliminary report.
        N Engl J Med. 2020; 383: 1920-1931
        • The Lancet null
        COVID-19: a stress test for trust in science.
        Lancet. 2020; 396 (19): 799
        • Benjamens S.
        • de Meijer V.E.
        • Pol R.A.
        • Haring M.P.D.
        Are all voices heard in the COVID-19 debate?.
        Scientometrics. 2020; : 1-4