While compiling data to mine the text and identify themes within coronavirus research, I plotted some basic information available within the meta-data file.

Research output over the years

As reported in a STAT+ article on coronavirus research funding, coronavirus research rises and falls according to the presence of an outbreak (Figure 1). Below, data from the 1st of January, 1990 to the 26th of March, 2020 was plotted. We can clearly see the sudden jump in publications after the SARS outbreak of 2003, followed by a decline and a rapid rise again following the MERS outbreak in 2012. Lens.org includes data from pre-prints within their database, which can be observed below to rapidly rise in 2020 (orange bar). This is remarkable, given that the data for 2020 only included publications up to the end of March, meaning that in the space of 3 months, there have been more publications on coronavirus than for each year since 1990! With such a rapid rise in publication, it will be more important than ever to find ways to make sense of the information in order to not lose valuable insights.

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Figure 1: Number of coronavirus research publications from 1990 to 2020. Only numbers for research articles are displayed (i.e. no reviews, books chapters, letters etc.) Data: lens.org.

To view this in context with other viral diseases, I constructed the chart in Figure 2 to compare the publication output for HIV, influenza and coronavirus research over the last five years. Coronavirus research is dwarfed by activity in HIV and influenza. It is interesting to see that for all three diseases, there has been a steady decrease in publications since 2015. Could this be part of a general trend due to decreased funding for science (especially after the 2016 US elections)?

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Figure 2: Comparison of research output for HIV, influenza and coronavirus between 2015 and 2019. Data: lens.org.

Coronavirus research funders

A major point of the STAT+ article focused on the low interest in funding coronavirus research. We can see this more clearly by the graph in Figure 3. The NIAID and other NIH agencies (*NIH) were the major funders of coronavirus research that culminated in publications over the years, with peaks following the SARS and MERS outbreaks, but dropped dramatically from around 2015. This trend is reversed for publications funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NNSF China, pink line) which has been increasing since 2011. Interesting to see that the NNSF increased funding research following the MERS outbreak in 2012, which is the opposite trend from other funders.

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Figure 3: Visualizing the number of coronavirus publications connected to 6 major funders from 1990 to 2020. Two peaks of funding can be seen following the SARS outbreak in 2003 and MERS in 2012. Data: lens.org.