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Science & research / Public health

Rapid-review journal aims to combat misinformation in COVID-19 research

By Andrew Sansom 01 Jul 2020 0

The MIT Press has announced the launch of Rapid Reviews: COVID-19 (RR:C19), an open-access, rapid-review overlay journal aimed at accelerating peer review of COVID-19 related research and delivering real-time, verified scientific information for policy makers and health leaders.

Scientists and researchers are working overtime to understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus and are producing an unprecedented amount of preprint scholarship that is publicly available online but has not been vetted yet by peer review for accuracy. Traditional peer review can take four or more weeks to complete, but RR:C19’s editorial team, led by editor-in-chief Stefano M Bertozzi, Professor of Health Policy and Management and dean emeritus of the School of Public Health at University of California Berkeley, are targeting the production of expert reviews in a matter of days.

Using artificial intelligence tools, a global team will identify promising scholarship in preprint repositories, commission expert peer reviews, and publish the results on an open-access platform in what is described as a fully transparent process. The journal will strive for disciplinary and geographic breadth, sourcing manuscripts from all regions and across a wide variety of fields, including medicine; public health; the physical, biological, and chemical sciences; the social sciences; and the humanities. RR:C19 will also provide a new publishing option for revised papers that are positively reviewed.

Made possible by a $350,000 grant from the Patrick J McGovern Foundation and hosted on PubPub, an open-source publishing platform from the Knowledge Futures Group, RR:C19 seeks to limit the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, according to Bertozzi.

“There is an urgent need to validate or debunk the rapidly growing volume of COVID-19-related manuscripts on preprint servers,” he explains. “I’m excited to be working with the MIT Press, the Patrick J McGovern Foundation, and the Knowledge Futures Group to create a novel publishing model that has the potential to more efficiently translate important scientific results into action. We are also working with COVIDScholar, an initiative of UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, to create unique AI / machine learning tools to support the review of hundreds of preprints per week.”  -

Vilas Dhar, trustee of the Patrick J McGovern Foundation, comments: “This project signals a breakthrough in academic publishing, bringing together urgency and scientific rigour so the world’s researchers can rapidly disseminate new discoveries that we can trust. 

“We’re confident the RR:C19 journal will quickly become an invaluable resource for researchers, public health officials, and healthcare providers on the frontline of this pandemic. We’re also excited about the potential for a long-term transformation in how we evaluate and share research across all scientific disciplines.”

Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press, sees the open-access model as a way to increase the impact of global research and disseminate high-quality scholarship. “Offering a peer-reviewed model on top of preprints will bring a level of diligence that clinicians, researchers and others worldwide rely on to make sound judgments about the current crisis and its amelioration,” says Brand.

“The project also aims to provide a proof-of-concept for new models of peer review and rapid publishing for broader applications.”