The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Scientific Research in the Life Sciences

Authors: Massimo Riccaboni and Luca Verginer

arXiv (2021)


The COVID-19 outbreak has posed an unprecedented challenge to humanity and science. On the one side, public and private incentives have been put in place to promptly allocate resources toward research areas strictly related to the COVID-19 emergency. But on the flip side, research in many fields not directly related to the pandemic has lagged behind. In this paper, we assess the impact of COVID-19 on world scientific production in the life sciences. We investigate how the usage of medical subject headings (MeSH) has changed following the outbreak. We estimate through a difference-in-differences approach the impact of COVID-19 on scientific production through PubMed. We find that COVID-related research topics have risen to prominence, displaced clinical publications, diverted funds away from research areas not directly related to COVID-19 and that the number of publications on clinical trials in unrelated fields has contracted. Our results call for urgent targeted policy interventions to reactivate biomedical research in areas that have been neglected by the COVID-19 emergency.