A Moral Imperative: Open Science in the Ebola Crisis

The Authorea Team

Last June, a dedicated global team of Ebola researchers began an ambitious project to track the virus using large-scale genome sequencing. Their research, published June 18 in Cell, reveals critical information about how the virus traveled and spread over seven months of the recent Ebola outbreak.

The team, which included researchers from over a dozen institutions, made a conscious decision to pursue Open Science practices for this project.

One choice they made was to write their paper on Authorea, a new science editing and publishing website.

The full working version of the paper is now available to the public on Authorea. By using the “History” feature, readers can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the research came together, including every edit and change from the writing process.

“When we were kicking off the study, we discussed how much we would open up what we’re doing,” said co-lead author Danny Park. “Our team comes out of the Human Genome Project, so culturally we come from the open science ’put everything out there’ background. And especially in this kind of emergency situation there’s a moral imperative” to publish the data openly and quickly, he said.

The team chose Authorea in order to make the writing process transparent. Authorea’s History feature allows the public to view every change made during the writing process. Because key technical sentences were revised and words chosen carefully over time, the evolution of the document can be educational, said Dr. Park.

Authorea was just one of many tools used by the research team to publish their work as quickly and openly as possible. The team:

  • Published their raw genome data to the GenBank database and Virological.org online forum as soon as it was collected, so that other research teams could use and discuss the data immediately

  • Released demographic and clinical metadata on a special website to enable other researchers to spot important trends

  • Set up a new website to gather and visualize data from multiple research groups

  • Published a Comment in Nature strongly advocating open sharing of data during this and future outbreaks

  • Chose Authorea as a platform to write and edit their draft manuscript, allowing readers to view the writing process with full transparency

  • Published their article as fully Open Access in Cell

“One of the most rewarding aspects of working in this outbreak response is the connections we have made with so many extraordinary individuals through open data sharing”, said senior author Pardis Sabeti.

The goal of Open Science principles is to produce stronger, more reproducible, transparent scientific results as quickly as possible. It’s a virtuous circle: openness begets collaboration begets more openness. And in a serious outbreak like the recent Ebola epidemic, more open research can quite literally save lives.

About Authorea:

Authorea is an online word processor that makes research writing and publishing faster and easier. Created by scientists, for scientists, Authorea encourages and supports Open Science, transparency, and collaboration.

With over 41000 users and a weekly growth rate that has doubled in the past nine months, Authorea is currently the fastest-growing science publishing platform in the world.

Other Resources

Authorea contacts

  • Alberto Pepe, co-founder and CEO, Authorea: alberto@authorea.com, +1 (310) 600-3929

  • Jace Harker, Growth and Community: jace@authorea.com, +1 585-737-6459

  • Tanya Anderson, Outreach: tanya@authorea.com

Key author contacts

  • Danny Park: dpark@broadinstitute.org

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