Policymakers draw heavily from highly cited COVID-19 science

January 07, 2021

Policymakers around the world tend to reference new and highly cited COVID-19 research papers in their policy documents regarding the pandemic, Yian Yin and colleagues conclude after analyzing publications of both types from the first half of 2020. "Overall, this result shows that the coronavirus research used by policymakers aligns with what scientists heavily engage themselves," they write in a Policy Forum. Although government agencies produced more COVID-19 documents compared to think tanks and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Health Organization, Yin et al. found that governmental agencies are the least likely to cite science. Organizations like WHO are the most likely institutions to cite science, they write, suggesting that these organizations can act as "central conduits" linking policy and science in the global COVID-19 response. The researchers examined scientific citations in policy documents drawn from a database of 37,725 papers covering most major world economies and populations centers, with the exception of mainland China. The policy documents have an unusually high rate of using the newest science--10 times larger than seen for other policy documents. And policymakers draw heavily from scientific papers that are highly cited in the scientific literature. Papers referenced in the policy documents have collected on average 40 times higher citations than papers not referenced in the documents, the researchers found. Yin et al. also note that policy papers disproportionately reference peer-reviewed research published in top medical and specialty journals, despite the recent abundance and attention given to research released on preprint servers.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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