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Micro- und macrodynamics in the change to Covid-19 research

The rapidly increasing demand for scientific solutions to the prevention, diagnostics and therapy of COVID-19 infections made a large number of researchers switch to new research topics at approximately the same time. This transition was supported by a strong investment of many countries in research funding for COVID-19 related research. At the same time, research related to this pandemic operates under strong time pressure, which extends to the rapid production of new findings as well as the rapid communication of new pandemic-related scientific contributions. These two factors created an extreme situation for COVID-19 related research. Studying this extreme situation can lead us to a deeper understanding of micro- and macro-dynamics of research.

We take advantage of this opportunity by pursuing two research questions. On the micro level we ask how the success of a transition to COVID-19 research depends on the epistemic distance between previous research and the current pandemic-related research. On the macro level, we ask how the simultaneous transitions of many researchers to pandemic-related research affects the dynamics of fields.

Epistemic Distance

Micro-dynamics: How does the epistemic distance of the research before the transition to the Covid-19 research affect the duration, direction and success of this transition?


In order to measure the epistemic distance of two bodies of research, we need to locate the research content of both bodies of research in a common space where distances can be measured. Furthermore, the measure has to be multidimensional, because research bodies in their complexity cannot be meaningfully compared in one dimension.

Research that has been conducted with the same or a similar method, or on the same or a similar research object, can be considered epistemically less distant in these dimensions, compared to using completely different methods or objects.


We seek to identify the researchers’ methods and objects in the titles and abstracts of their preprints or publications. These extracted phrases from the text are projected onto a biomedical thesaurus (MeSH), which is a hierarchical tree of terms. This thesaurus is then used to calculate distances in the methods and objects dimensions.

Among other software, we use Metamap, which allows the automatic mapping of the terms in texts of preprints or publications to the MeSH thesaurus.

New Communication Channels

Macro-dynamics: How do the simultaneous transitions of many researchers who changed to Covid-19 research affect the dynamics of fields?

The need to accelerate research and facilitate scientific communication, especially in areas important to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, has influenced the publication of research. One of the most significant changes is the rapid development of the system of preprints, i.e. of scientific publications that have not passed the peer review process. Preprints present preliminary research results and are published on special internet archives.

Previous studies have already shown that the number of preprints related to COVID-19 research is growing faster than the number of preprints in other biomedical fields. In addition, preprints related to COVID-19 research take less time to be turned into articles.

Our research focuses on how scientific communication channels are changing with the rise of preprints in areas related to COVID-19 research.

Using the example of preprints in immunology, we study the use (namely, the practice of citation) in scientific publications of preprints related to COVID-19 research by comparing their use to that of preprints not related to COVID-19 research.

Here you find for more information on other projects of the group.

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