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Increased submissions to ophthalmology scientific journals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published:April 30, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clae.2022.101701
      The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic began at the end of 2019 and quickly became a global issue affecting most countries in early 2020. Lockdowns were implemented by most countries and continued in various forms for around two years. These unprecedented restrictions were elevated and reduced with the pandemic waves within each geographical area, causing many people to stay at home, sometimes for considerably extended periods. Education was often performed on online platforms, and, where possible, people would work from home [
      • Wigginton N.S.
      • Cunningham R.M.
      • Katz R.H.
      • Lidstrom M.E.
      • Moler K.-A.
      • Wirtz D.
      • et al.
      Moving academic research forward during COVID-19.
      ]. For clinical research, this meant that investigations involving human subjects were postponed [
      • Wigginton N.S.
      • Cunningham R.M.
      • Katz R.H.
      • Lidstrom M.E.
      • Moler K.-A.
      • Wirtz D.
      • et al.
      Moving academic research forward during COVID-19.
      ,
      • Palamar J.J.
      • Acosta P.
      On the efficacy of online drug surveys during the time of COVID-19.
      ]. The extensive disruption has led to incalculable setbacks for investigators, many affecting career advancement. These include cancellations of long-running experiments, the loss of opportunities to collect data, and lack of access to specialized instrumentation [
      • Wigginton N.S.
      • Cunningham R.M.
      • Katz R.H.
      • Lidstrom M.E.
      • Moler K.-A.
      • Wirtz D.
      • et al.
      Moving academic research forward during COVID-19.
      ,
      • Fleming T.R.
      • Labriola D.
      • Wittes J.
      Conducting clinical research during the COVID-19 pandemic: protecting scientific integrity.
      ]. In many cases, researchers altered their types of study as this presented a unique opportunity to focus on either existing data sets or undeveloped manuscripts. Research administration had been equally affected as they were inundated with urgent requests for approvals for COVID-19 related studies [
      • Omary M.B.
      • Eswaraka J.
      • Kimball S.D.
      • Moghe P.V.
      • Panettieri R.A.
      • Scotto K.W.
      The COVID-19 pandemic and research shutdown: staying safe and productive.
      ]. Many journals expediated submissions related to COVID19 and publishers waived the ‘open access’ fee for COVID-related papers to ensure good quality and evidence-based information was available for the basis of changes that were being implemented by authorities. Initially there was some concern over contact lens use during the pandemic and whether the risk of adverse events increased. An important paper looking at this and dispelling some of the myth and providing an evidence base was published in CLAE [
      • Jones L.
      • Walsh K.
      • Willcox M.
      • Morgan P.
      • Nichols J.
      The COVID-19 pandemic: Important considerations for contact lens practitioners.
      ]. This paper was reviewed, revised and accepted for publication within 3 days and was online shortly afterwards so that practitioners had a reliable source of information.
      Anecdotally, many journal editors commented on the unprecedented increased number of submissions and publications to their journals. That was certainly true at CLAE, and we wanted to know if this was the case in other ophthalmic journals. We contacted the Editors of 100 ophthalmic scientific journals and asked them about the number of submissions during the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the period two years prior. Thirteen journal editors responded, and the information is summarised below (the journals are not named as this information is considered sensitive for publishers). Most of the journals were able to provide information as to the type of submissions (Full articles, Reviews, Editorials, Case reports, Letters etc.), although three did not provide this breakdown.
      Tabled 1
      JournalYearTotal SubmissionsFull articlesReviewsEditorialsCase reportsLettersOtherCOVID related Publications (2020–2021)
      12018–2019490429306361634
      2020–2021769665271161941
      22018–20191501471219
      2020–202121921414
      32018–20192631165864659112814533
      2020–2021319818999212934101146
      42018–20191508144672311
      2020–202118812049417
      52018–201924952013161375818838160
      2020–2021398230972477499325129
      62018–2019123214
      2020–20211361
      72018–201963135512211812
      2020–20218954891731610
      82018–2019868700149734233
      2020–20211014804361222329
      92018–20192141623375541
      2020–202115411033218204163
      102018–201917629
      2020–20212180
      112018–20192368
      2020–2021312
      122018–201938414010511242342
      2020–20215371841421741027
      132018–20196595143513943023
      2020–2021101277055121273711
      Increase%42.50%49.40%77.90%86.90%52.40%46.30%78.40%
      During two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the average number of submissions increased by 42% compared to the two years prior, and all types of papers showed more submissions. However, total journal publications did not and cannot increase to that magnitude, as individual journals have page count restrictions. For CLAE, the rejection rate over the pandemic era increased nearly 10% compared to the pre-pandemic era. It would be incorrect to assume that the quality of research was affected as data may have been available pre-pandemic, and journals would be applying the same editorial rigour as they would do usually.
      The 87% increase in invited editorials is interesting as it actually represents more of a change in the journal. Some journals may have invited editorials related to the pandemic; in CLAE there were 3 editorials directly related to contact lens practice during the pandemic [
      • Naroo S.A.
      • Zeri F.
      Contact lens practice in the time of COVID-19.
      ,
      • Cho P.
      • Boost M.
      • Covid,
      19—An eye on the virus.
      ,
      • Naroo S.A.
      • Kapoor R.
      • Zeri F.
      Times they are a-changin for contact lens practice.
      ]. Review submissions increased by 77% across all journals. Perhaps this is another indication that it was a time to reflect, organise, and more deeply comprehend accumulated knowledge or reveals a change in the way that research was being conducted. Letters are communications by readers inspired by full articles in that journal or a commentary on a clinical finding. We can only speculate as to the cause of the 46% increase in this type of submission, but at CLAE, letters related to clinical observations related to COVID-19 were published and in fact were given publication priority over some other papers because they provided useful and important information to the profession [
      • Morgan P.B.
      Contact lens wear during the COVID-19 pandemic.
      ,
      • Orsborn G.
      The importance of credible information about contact lens wear during pandemic.
      ,
      • Hamroush M.
      • Qureshi S.S.a.
      Increased risk of ocular injury seen during lockdown due to COVID-19.
      ,
      • Wang H.
      • Kong W.
      • Zhang W.
      • Fan Q.
      Contact lens practice in the time of COVID-19.
      ].
      As there was an influx of submissions, there was also a need for more reviewers so that editors could accept manuscripts appropriately and publish them in a timely manner [
      • Bramstedt K.A.
      The carnage of substandard research during the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for quality.
      ]. However, the time frame from submission to publication was lengthened. We also found at CLAE that the increase of new submissions has led to a backlog of papers waiting to be published. Though intuitively, most stages of a publishing platform in a global online environment can be performed remotely, surrounding circumstances such as illness or additional responsibilities may have influenced reviewers' schedules and efficiency.
      Although the pandemic caused drastic changes in both the clinical and academic realms, the ophthalmic community showed strength and commitment, applying their time and energy to investigational activity and advancement of knowledge. The significant increase in submissions during the pandemic, yet unrelated directly to COVID-19, shows our colleagues' genuine dedication to the profession.

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