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Open Access Publication in the Spotlight - 'Mind the gap: Data availability, accessibility, transparency, and credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, an international comparative appraisal'

Date:26 June 2023
Author:Open Access Team
Open access publication in the spotlight: June 2023
Open access publication in the spotlight: June 2023

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of June 2023 is titled Mind the gap: Data availability, accessibility, transparency, and credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, an international comparative appraisal, written by a research team led by Valentina Gallo (associate professor at Campus Fryslân).


Data transparency has played a key role in this pandemic. The aim of this paper is to map COVID-19 data availability and accessibility, and to rate their transparency and credibility in selected countries, by the source of information. This is used to identify knowledge gaps, and to analyse policy implications. The availability of a number of COVID-19 metrics (incidence, mortality, number of people tested, test positive rate, number of patients hospitalised, number of patients discharged, the proportion of population who received at least one vaccine, the proportion of population fully vaccinated) was ascertained from selected countries for the full population, and for few of stratification variables (age, sex, ethnicity, socio-economic status) and subgroups (residents in nursing homes, inmates, students, healthcare and social workers, and residents in refugee camps). Nine countries were included: Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Turkey, Panama, Greece, the UK, and the Netherlands. All countries reported periodically most of COVID-19 metrics on the total population. Data were more frequently broken down by age, sex, and region than by ethnic group or socio-economic status. Data on COVID-19 is partially available for special groups. This exercise highlighted the importance of a transparent and detailed reporting of COVID-19 related variables. The more data is publicly available the more transparency, accountability, and democratisation of the research process is enabled, allowing a sound evidence-based analysis of the consequences of health policies.

We asked corresponding author Valentina Gallo a few questions about the article:

The article is the result of a teacher/student collaboration during a Summer School in Sustainable Health at Campus Fryslân. Could you tell us a bit more about this experience?

The Summer School in Sustainable Health was entitled: Towards a new, better normal after COVID-19. We tackled a few aspects of the pandemic, the origins, the inequalities, and the policies around the management. As part of the policies on COVID-19, we discussed the importance of having high quality data publicly available for a transparent and accountable process. As such, we started an exercise of collecting publicly available data from the countries of origins of the students (we had students from more than 12 countries, from the five continents connected online). Students were trained in collecting relevant data, and were assisted in putting them together in a uniform format. This gave the material as the basis of the paper which was then led by the staff (Arianna Rotulo, Elias Kondilis and myself) which was written during the months after the summer school.

The results mention that COVID-19 data availability was good at overall levels (e.g. number of cases, mortality, testing etc.), but significantly less data was available for stratification variables (e.g. age, sex, socio-economic status). Also, accessing the data was considered difficult. What would be your recommendations to improve data availability and accessibility? 

One of the hallmarks of the study of case distribution during the pandemic is not knowing more about how these cases were distributed within individual populations. In the countries where this happened (namely the UK) this had concrete implications for policy. For example, higher mortality in Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK compared to white Britons led to a very important report on structural inequalities which highlighted how being an ethnic minority made people at higher risk of death regardless of other characteristics, such as for example the social status. Similarly, the high mortality in care homes in the UK led to an inquiry on how people were unrightfully sent to care homes regardless of their infectious status, which led to highly fatal outbreaks among the elderly. These learning opportunities would have been missed without reports of mortality by ethnicity or in special groups. As such we don't know how how other disadvantaged groups (for example migrants and refugees) have been disproportionately penalized by the countries' COVID policy (for more, please see

To publish your article open access, the publisher charged an article processing charge (APC) of $2,100 (for PLOS there is no APC discount available for UG authors). How did you pay for this, and what do you think of such a fee?

The fee was discounted as I am an academic editor of PLOS Global Public Health. The fee was paid out of the Summer School budget. All students who participated in the exercise were named as co-authors and participated in writing and reviewing the manuscript. Although I support the open access policy as a necessary measure to make the scientific process democratic and transparent, individual article payment limits the choice of journals and of impact that individual academics can make. This is particularly unfair considering that many of us act as academic editors and reviewers for such journals for free, as is my case. Academic journals are the only ones profiting from the system, and fuel inequalities in production and access to scientific evidence.

The peer review reports for this article are openly available as well. How did you experience this open peer review?

I didn't even notice that the review was open access. Personally I find this practice exaggerated. It is one of those examples where the abundance of information does not necessarily lead to increased transparency, just increased noise. The peer review process is less than ideal and has many intrinsic problems. However it is the current standard and either we trust it or not. I already have scarce time to read the literature, imagine reading how authors got to the final manuscript outlook...

Useful links:

The University of Groningen’s open access policy and open access support.

Open access journal browser: search engine that can be used to check if a discount on the article processing charge (APC) is available for a specific journal. UG corresponding authors can publish with an APC discount (mostly 100%, so for free) in more than 12.000 journals!


Rotulo A, Kondilis E, Thwe T, Gautam S, Torcu Ö, Vera-Montoya M, et al. (2023) Mind the gap: Data availability, accessibility, transparency, and credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, an international comparative appraisal. PLOS Glob Public Health 3(4): e0001148. 

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About the author

Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

Link: /openaccess