Global Scientific research on COVID-19 and Greece's contribution

A bibliometric analysis of scientific publications at international level, with focus on the participation of Greek researchers.

Actions to manage, prevent and control the disease require constant monitoring of scientific evidence, as new research results are published at an unprecedented rate. For scientists, the pandemic has been an extremely rare opportunity to combine a wide range of scientific fields. In an effort to capture a snapshot of the international landscape of COVID-19-related scientific research, the National Documentation Centre (EKT) conducted a bibliometric analysis of international scientific publications, assessing data retrieved from the Clarivate Analytic’s Web of Science (WoS) indexed publications.

Specifically, 82,984 publications on coronaviruses were retrieved from 1968 onwards. 67,360 of these (81%) documents have been indexed from January 1 to December 21, 2020, indicative of how quickly the scientific community is responding to the pandemic.

The most popular journals in which researchers have chosen to publish their scientific achievements are: The British Medical Journal, stands out, with 1,142 publications that is the 1.7%, of the total share, Journal of Medical Virology with 1.1% of publications, and International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health with 637 (0.9%).

They are followed by CUREUS, a purely open access (OA) journal, which together with PLOS ONE, also OA, has hosted a total of 1.35% of COVID-19 scientific publications. This shows a shift of researchers towards OA journals, contrary to the prevailing view that the journals of large commercial publishing houses with a high Impact Factor are the ones to be preferred.

The pressing need to communicate scientific discoveries, in real-time, in order to support decision-making processes in a short time, as well as to combat misinformation, has accelerated developments in the way research results are published, which could be summarised by three major changes:

1. The strengthening of OA in publications, research data and protocols. From WoS data, 86% of COVID-19 publications are available with OA
2. Encouraging the availability of pre-publications through preprint servers. In medRxiv and bioRxiv, up to 21/12/2020, preprints  for COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 amounted to 11,623 (9,092 medRxiv, 2,531 bioRxiv).
3. The acceleration of peer-review processes and of publication mechanisms. Publishers prioritise article evaluation for COVID-19, openly inviting researchers to review articles at short intervals, encouraging new researchers to participate in the process, and using interactive media such as video calls with authors.

Using the number of published papers as an indicator of national research achievements, it appears that the USA made the highest contribution to the research in the field of coronavirus research globally (28%), with Harvard Medical School being identified as the top institution (1.76% of publications). 12.6% of all publications are affiliated with at least one organisation in China, with Huazhong University of Science and Technology producing 1.54% of publications worldwide. It seems that the degree of research production of countries is directly proportional to the high prevalence of COVID-19 and the casualties, in those countries.

Chaolin Huang proves to be the most influential writer. The Lancet article on COVID-19's epidemiology, laboratory diagnosis, symptoms, and clinical findings received 8,165 citations. Following is the article by the China Medical Treatment Expert Group (New England Journal of Medicine) on the clinical features of COVID-19, with 5,238 citations. 

The 10 most popular articles received a total of 43,573 citations and were published in 4 top journals (The Lancet 16,770 citations, New England Journal of Medicine 12,513 citations, JAMA-Journal of the American Medical Association 7,462 citations, Nature 6,828 citations). This confirms the stereotypical view in the field of scientific publications: that the articles published in high-impact journals have greater visibility and therefore greater probability to attract citations from other studies

Greece's participation in the COVID-19 survey

In terms of Greek contribution in the global scientific research for the COVID-19 pandemic, between January 1 and December 21, 2020,  683 publications resulting from the collaboration of 4,778 authors from Greece and abroad were indexed, with Greece ranked 27th in a total of 207 countries in the WoS databases.

The publications for COVID-19 with the participation of Greek scientists, cumulatively received 6,165 citations from other studies in the WoS, with an average of 9.03 citations per publication, while the h-index (bibliometric index of scientific quality) for this set  is 37. In terms of the number of  references received, the leading source is the Letter in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, with George Karakiulakis (AUTh Medical School) among the authors, which has received 677 citations, representing 11% of the total citations.  Greek scientists, Demetrios A. Spandidos, Sotirios Tsiodras and Aristidis Tsatsakis were the most prolific Greek authors participating in 31, 30, 15 works, respectively

Regarding Greek institutions with the most publications,  in the top position is the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (37.8% of the publications). It is followed by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (14.4%), the University of Thessaly (10.4%), the University of Patras (9.6%) and the University of Crete (9.1%)

As for the top journals, Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine published the bulk share of papers i.e. 17 articles corresponding to 2.4% of the total, 9 articles (1.3%) were published in the Hellenic Journal of Nuclear Medicine and 9 articles in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health ( 1.4%). In their research, the Greeks collaborated with scientists or scientific groups from 99 different countries. Based on the number of papers published collaboratively, the 5 countries with which there was the most co-operation are Italy (23%), USA (22%), England (20%), Germany (14%) and Spain (13%).

Analysis of the WoS Categories, the research areas and the keywords of the publications shows that the research carried out by Greek scientists is in the main domain of Medicine and Health Science, since the medicine-related publications are the highest in the list of disciplines 74.6%, with Clinical Medicine(62%) being the most relevant and general and internal medicine, diagnostic methods in cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases as the predominant fields.  A much smaller share of  the publications (13%) are in basic medicine, in particular immunology and pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions. The rest of the medical-related publications are subject to medical research and experimental medicine in COVID-19, public and environmental health, occupational health, health policy and services, etc.

A relatively small share of documents 13.7% is found in Natural Sciences, focusing predominately in environmental sciences (20%), biochemistry and molecular biology (14%), virology (11%), microbiology (13%) and interdisciplinary applications of computer science and mathematics. The results of research in these subjects mainly aim to support the efforts in the field of prevention & control through smart technologies as well as in the diagnosis, prevention and analysis of the pandemic.

The spread of the pandemic has also been the subject of researchers in the Social Sciences (6.3% of publications), mainly exploring the impact of the pandemic, on the environment, the human psychology and behaviour and the tourism and the economy. The less-explored areas are the Engineering and Technology (4.6%) and the Humanities (0.4%) with most relevant fields the philosophy, religion and arts in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. 

This article is an updated version (data: January 1 - December 21, 2020) of the article 'Scientific production for COVID-19. A bibliometric analysis' by Ioanna Sarantopoulou, published in issue 119 of the magazine 'Innovation, Research & Digital Economy'. Photography: Giannis Voulgarakis