With the Covid-19 pandemic, science is quickly reaching public policy, but not unanimously – 01/07/2021 – Balance and Health

The Covid-19 pandemic can be remembered not only for the nearly 2 million deaths (so far), but also for the unprecedented response of science to the challenge of containing the new coronavirus, and for translating that knowledge into public at record speed Activities .

In a study published this Thursday (7) by Science magazine, researchers at Northwestern University (USA) highlight the unprecedented nature of the phenomenon: science has never before reached the guidelines of agencies and governments. Scientists in the region had already pointed to the existence of some kind of abyss, which means that this relationship always has a great lag, sometimes even years.

Public policy information was extracted from Overton, a large global database, and affects two-thirds of the world’s population, 79% of GDP and 95% of deaths from Covid-19 (by May 2020). Publications and academic citations data are sourced from the Dimensions platform.

Noteworthy is the lack of information on China’s public policy. According to the authors, when they are public they are particularly difficult to find.

Research analyzed this coevolution between public policy and scientific publications at the start of the pandemic between January and May 2020. The main conclusion is that while science is heard at all levels, it is not uniform.

Intergovernmental organizations such as the WHO (World Health Organization) affiliated with the United Nations often adopt scientific articles in their guidelines, especially those of higher quality. Next come think tanks, organizations that are dedicated to reflecting on the great problems of humanity and suggesting solutions to them.

Here quality can be translated as support for other scientists for these studies: larger number of citations in other articles and availability in more reputable journals with a strict selection and evaluation process of the study by other scientists before publication.

On the other side of this story are the so-called pre-prints, items that were made available on publicly accessible platforms prior to these more formal rites. This avenue allows for the rapid dissemination of scientific discoveries and extensive review of the material, but it can also be a shortcut to very preliminary or bogus studies aimed at gaining inadequate weight and ultimately supporting public health strategies.

To some extent, many of the references in public antivirus policy were expected to be new as almost everything was learned “live”, but scientists were impressed with the proportion of articles published in 2020 (published through May) under Citations: 19 .9% compared to less than 2% in non-Covid-19 related documents.

Another problem: the articles mentioned in public policy are on average 40 times more cited than the others, an indication of the relevance of these publications.

“This seems to comfort scientists, as science has certainly done an exceptional job in advancing Covid-19-related research, and it is good to know that the research has quickly made its way into these public policy documents.” says Dashun Wang, one of the authors of the science study.

“The pattern is likely to change as the pandemic develops. Our main focus here is on the early stages of the pandemic, where politics and scientific understanding are advancing rapidly. It is possible that over time some of the findings will become generally accepted knowledge, which would change the political science interaction. It is also possible that new situations may arise, such as the new viral variants in the UK. “

For the scientist, the huge amount of data, which is available almost in real time and is now available to researchers, opens up the possibility of planning how a global response is to be coordinated in major emergencies.

On the flip side, Wang and colleagues’ analysis has shown that the wheel that is in this system is some government agency that often uses early research and even articles with opinions to work out their guidelines, as in the case the introduction of hydroxychloroquine and other substances in treatment and / or prevention protocols according to Covid-19.

In the researchers’ reports, an intergovernmental organization is four times more likely to endorse its scientific data guidelines than those of governments who do the same. However, there is still no ranking that shows which countries are ahead in this stance.

For Natália Pasternak, President of the Instituto Questão de Ciência, which advocates the use of scientific knowledge in public policy, “it is clear that Brazil is going against the world with our public policy in order to contain the pandemic. While the world benefits from reports from global organizations like WHO that are based on the latest and greatest of scientific evidence, Brazil’s public policy relies on poor quality articles and forms that have been pre-selected to justify ideological-based decisions . “

Discrepancies in the public policy of government agencies are analyzed in an ongoing study by Wang and colleagues. “We’re trying to understand the heterogeneity between countries and whether it helps to predict the effectiveness in containing the pandemic,” says the scientist.

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