Access to data to facilitate advanced research during COVID-19

 Advanced research needs an appropriate amount of quality data, which is not feasible to obtain during the pandemic. There are problems such as social distancing and transportation, that must be considered during the pandemic. In such a case, how can a researcher obtain data? How to get access to data during COVID-19? What are the new ways to obtain data for research and are they useful? Read the article to find out.

Introduction

            Research is a quintessential part of science & technology, as it leads to discoveries and inventions. It helps us understand issues and concepts more easily, as most of the advanced research includes data interpretation and graphs to make the target audience understand the concept simply. But for that, a researcher needs data obtained by him when he does fieldwork. Fieldwork is defined as “work done in the field (as by students) to gain practical experience and knowledge through first-hand observation”[1]. But this working in the field might not be possible today. The reason is the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to lockdown and various restrictions on movement and transportation, fieldwork becomes very difficult. Therefore, access to data during COVID-19 is an important issue. Why is this access to data difficult than in normal times? How to get access to data during the pandemic without risking viral exposure? Let’s see in this article. 

Access to Data: Problems and Research Ethics Issues during the pandemic

            Although many research papers consist of reviewing other’s work and adding new points, there is a significant number of research papers that depend on primary sources such as laboratory work, interviews, surveys, etc. When the various governments around the world posed quarantine rules and lockdown, access to labs and taking surveys were effectively cut off. Transportation would be a problem since trains and buses were not functioning as much as they did before the pandemic. These are all Problems of Getting Access to Data or also as addressed in the rest of the article, POGAD. Now, let’s talk about some statistics on POGAD that was obtained from the study done by Nicola Byrom[2]. This paper talks about the surveys that were started by SMaRteN and Vitae, which is about the impact of the pandemic on researchers. This survey by itself was conducted online and through social media.

             The survey found that almost 3/4th of the researchers were finding difficulty in collecting data, working on their papers, and discussing the ideas with their colleagues. It had said that,

                        “More than half also identified a negative impact on data analysis, writing, and working on a grant or fellowship application. Also, almost a third of respondents identified that they had reduced or no access to the software that they needed for research, highlighting the importance for universities to provide better access to essential work resources.[3]

            The last line must be noted as it talks about how researchers in the UK are suffering due to inaccessible data and software. From this, closing down of Institutions can also be noted as a problem for researchers as much data can be gathered in the Institute’s labs and the resources available. Adding to the POGAD, the stress about the future is also present. The survey shows that “only 12% of final-year doctoral students reported that their institution had provided an option to extend their studies.” Nearly 40% of them in this survey have said that their research funding ends in 2020 and only 10% of them have got assurance that their funding would extend. More problems add to this, such as poor mental health and stress issues, etc.

            The document released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the ethical issues to research work during COVID-19 talks about various standards that might arise during this time.[4] Some of the listed standards were:

  • Research should be conducted only if it does not impede emergency response efforts.
  •  Local collaborative research is more preferred than international collaborations
  • All research conducted during a public health emergency must have scientific validity and social value
  • Research participants must be selected in ways where there is minimal risk and vulnerable groups must not be excluded without a proper scientific justification, etc.

            It is clear that there are many POGAD faced by the researchers and there are few ways to solve all these issues.  Let us look at them now.

Simple & Evolved research methodologies for “POGAD”

Change in Research Methodology

            There are many ways to continue the research by solving the POGAD. One of the best ways is to go digital. Online surveys and interviews might help a lot in the study researchers might be doing. They might be able to get data without risking exposure to the novel coronavirus. The American Psychological Association, on its page, puts some tips and advice for researching COVID-19[5]. (It must be noted that these measures are pre-lockdown and quarantine posted) Some of them are:

  • Modifying the method of research and analysis

Going online and digital, might help the research to continue and not pause for the whole period of the pandemic, but it might also have effects on the results of the study or research done. Many people, who may be the subject of given research might not be digitally literate. This might affect the sets of data and online data received cannot be trusted at all times.

  • Protecting the subjects of the research; humans/ animals

The present pandemic is because of a virus that spreads through the air, which makes the disease very dangerous. In this case, exposing people to laboratory tests, or face to face interaction, might not be advisable and none of the institutes will allow the same. Therefore, avoidance of asking the same subject of the research to visit more than once, might not be advisable.

            It can therefore be seen that going digital help get data but it also has other negative effects on the research work.

Other ways to collect Data: Secondary Sources

            A researcher can use the above methods to solve his/ her POGAD. But there are more easy methods available: using secondary data available on government websites. In India, on websites like data.gov, NCRB, there are secondary data already collected by the government. Researchers can make use of these data in their study to make their research simple and effective, but some errors might come here too. The secondary data available on the government websites might not be appropriate for some of the research studies as they need custom surveys or lab tests and cannot be obtained from general data.

            But this is not always the case. Many people need secondary data and secondary sources such as journal articles and books on a particular topic for their research. For this, open access is the key answer. After a few weeks of the quarantine and lockdown, big institutes and universities, made the books in their libraries open access. This was done to aid people who are researching, during the pandemic but are lacking resources.

            Here we must talk about the initiative taken by Harvard University. The Harvard Data Science Review, brings to attention, “foundational thinking, research milestones, educational innovations, and major applications, with a primary emphasis on reproducibility, replicability, and readability”[6]. Recently they had published a list of finding on the issue of how to tackle the COVID-19 problem.[7] This gives access to data to many students and staff who are researching the evolution of health care during COVID-19 or similar topics.

            Other than this, many websites provide links for journal articles and similar research papers, which might prove useful to researchers. It must also be requested to the government to make as many free repositories as possible for the sake of research.

Current Research Methodologies: Impact on science today and tomorrow

            Today, people use zoom conferences for their research and “are using social media and text messages to recruit individuals for studies”[8]. This online research methodology might be helpful and feasible for many researchers. This is because when one considers a survey, for example, he or she can create a google form or something similar to that and ask the participants to fill. All the responses are recorded and the form itself makes charts and bar graphs. This would certainly take off the burden from the researchers’ shoulders sometimes. But the information filled by the participants cannot be checked and there might not be credible data available in the hands of the researcher.

            But we have to consider the possibility of this becoming permanent too. To get more participants from remoter areas and reducing the costs of the research on areas like transportation, people might prefer getting data online. It cannot be assured that it would be credible, but it would certainly make the process easy. If researchers opt for the digital method in the future, not reverting to what existed before, the data available on whole would have an impact. This question can only be answered by time itself.   

Conclusion

            It is seen that many researchers and research students have suffered during the pandemic and are still suffering due to POGAD. We saw that the POGAD can be solved using digital surveys and usage of secondary resources. The drawbacks of the same have also been seen. It is therefore concluded that online research though might have some drawbacks such as credibility, is preferred during the pandemic. It may also be preferred post-pandemic, because, isolation from others might still be needed and this would be the most feasible option. But to preserve the existing quality of research data, reverting to normal research methods, post-pandemic would be advisable.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is POGAD during COVID-19?

            The problem of Getting Access to Data is some of the issues faces by the researchers during the pandemic, such as lack of resources from laboratories, institutes, taking physical surveys, interviews. In short, it is all things that block a researcher from getting access to data

2. Are the new methodologies for research data gathering effective?

            They are effective in some way as the researcher’s study progresses and gives some results. But this result might not be accurate as the new methodologies, even though are feasible might not give good quality data.

3. Will the research methodologies change forever after the pandemic?

            They might change if researchers put comfort and feasibility before quality. There might still be people who would revert to the old methodologies, but people accustomed to these new ways might make the change permanent

4. Why can’t secondary data from government websites be used in advanced research?

            Most of the advanced researches is the problem and target specific. They cannot be based on general data available on government websites. Even though government websites provide information, they might not be as intricate as it is needed.

5. Are online surveys better than physical counter-parts? Why/ why not?

            They have less risk for a person to get infected, especially during the pandemic, as the participant can take the survey from his or her home. But on the other hand, the quality of the data might be affected.

References


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