The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a ‘firehose’ of articles and data on the topic (Kupferschmidt 2020), propelled by shortened time-to-acceptance compared to pre-COVID-19 (Aviv-Reuven and Rosenfeld, 2020) and the growth of preprint platform usage (Fry and MacGarvie 2020). Zhang et al. (2020a) noted that historical patterns show that researchers have always responded quickly to public health emergencies with a sharp increase in the number of publications on the emergency topic, a finding we can confirm in the COVID-19 era. In updating our earlier work (Fry et al. 2020), we find that the number of coronavirus publications has seen a great boom in 2020, rising at a spectacular rate from a total of 4,875 articles produced on the topic (preprint and peer reviewed) between January and mid-April to an overall sum of 44,013 by mid-July, and 87,515 by the start of October 2020 (in comparison, nanoscale science was a rapidly growing field in the 1990s, but it took more than 19 years to go from 4000 to 90,000 articles (Grieneisen and Zhang, 2011)). Given that the crisis is ongoing, that the world continues to require solutions, and that a travel ban remains in place, we expect to find that the trend towards smaller, more elite teams has continued, and that patterns of international collaborative partnerships mirror the trends in the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases.
Fry et al. (2020) showed that early COVID-19 research featured significant levels of China-USA collaboration, and that shortly into the initial weeks of the pandemic, researchers from the UK joined China-USA international teams. Liu et al. (2020) showed growth in what they call ‘parachuting collaborations’—new connections not seen prior to the pandemic—which have dramatically increased during the pandemic. Together with the findings in Fry et al. (2020), this suggests that search and team formation patterns across the network changed to adapt to the needs of COVID-19 research, a finding also reported by Lee and Haupt (2020). Liu et al. (2020) further found that COVID-19 research papers were less likely to involve international collaboration than non-COVID-19 papers during the same time period, a finding reported by Aviv-Reuven and Rosenfeld (2020) as well, both supporting Fry et al. (2020) in the assertion that the urgency of the pandemic necessitates smaller, familiar teams who can work quickly to task.
Importantly, among the articles reviewing the publication patterns of COVID-19 work, all find differences among countries in the extent to which they produce coronavirus articles, as well as differences in participation rates among nations in international collaborations, as compared to before the pandemic. The trends diverge from pre-COVID-19 work in four main ways. First, Fry et al. (2020) showed that very few developing countries were involved in early COVID-19 research. Zhang et al. (2020b) confirmed Fry et al. in finding that the USA, China, and the UK are the three countries with the largest number of articles as well as the most international collaborations. Lee and Haupt (2020) found that many nations did not join the COVID-19 collaborations: those nations more affected by the crisis tended to participate more in international collaboration than their less affected counterparts. Second, a departure from pre-COVID-19 research is found in the smaller teams publishing together, a finding confirmed by Aviv-Reuven and Rosenfeld (2020). This is likely due to the need for rapidity in responding to the crisis. Third, a departure is seen in smaller and more centralized networks, where leadership reverts to elite institutions in leading nations. Fourth, COVID-19 research exhibits higher novelty than coronavirus research before the pandemic (Liu et al. 2020), especially for China (Zhang et al. 2020a, b). In this paper we continue this line of inquiry and explore how trends in coronavirus research continue to develop through the pandemic. While previous research has focused on the earliest months of the pandemic, we explore whether the trends observed in these early months have continued through the pandemic period, or returned to pre-pandemic dynamics.
As the pandemic continued to ravage nations like the USA, India, and some European countries throughout 2020, the very rapid growth in the number of coronavirus-related publications slowed for preprints.Footnote 1 Following the decline in the global share of COVID-19 cases and the rise in articles from a larger set of countries, articles from China represented a smaller share of world articles than in the early months of the pandemic. In contrast, the USA and European nations turned out increasing numbers of COVID-19 articles, a finding particularly true of Italy which rapidly increased its output during COVID-19.
Consistent with our previous findings in Fry et al. (2020) but somewhat surprisingly, team size continued to shrink, with the number of authors, number of nations, and the rate of international-teamed articles continuing to decrease from pre-COVID-19. In line with the drop in Chinese-authored articles, and in contrast to the volume of USA-China collaboration in the early months of the pandemic, the rate at which these two countries collaborate slowed as the pandemic continued through 2020.
Coronavirus-related documents from Elsevier Scopus, Clarivate Web of Science, PubMed Central (PMC), as well as (arXiv, medRxiv, ChemRxiv, BioRxiv) preprints accessed from Dimensions were collected using the same search strategy as Fry et al. (2020). Data were collected for multiple time periods, enabling us to analyze research publications during COVID-19 by periods. We define four periods in the data corresponding to (1) pre-COVID-19 as articles produced between 2018 and 2019; (2) Period I as January 1–April 8, 2020; (3) Period II as April 9–July 12, 2020; and (4) Period III as July 13–October 5, 2020. Author affiliation data is used to ascertain the nations producing articles with a full count going to a participating nation. These same data were used to assess international collaboration. To illustrate the changing contributions and collaboration patterns of different nations, we focus much of our analysis on China, the first economy that suffered from the pandemic, as well as the 10 most-affected countries (the United States (USA), India, France, Brazil, the United Kingdom (UK), Italy, Spain, Russia, Belgium, and Poland) in terms of cumulative COVID-19 cases to date as recorded by Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases). We also generate variables on publication team size, or the number of authors per article. We do this by counting the number of names in the author list of each publication in the dataset.
Table 1 shows the numbers of articles by time period. The table reveals that researchers are continuing to produce a large number of articles in COVID-19 related topics in up to 10 months after the start of the pandemic, but at a slower rate of growth than seen in Spring 2020.
In earlier work, Fry et al. (2020) included preprints as part of the assessment of national contributions. In this article, when calculating the national contributions (using a full counting method) and international collaboration, we exclude preprints. This choice reflects the fact that about 50% of preprints do not provide information on author affiliations, which could lead to a distorted count. Moreover, the data on formal publications is truncated at the time of writing, and so we have no way of knowing how many preprints do not end up in peer-reviewed journals. In addition, many have noted that the quality of the preprints is questionable. For these reasons, we have dropped preprints from the calculation and focus on formal publication records in the following analysis.