Impact Stories

NYU Uses Open Data to Accelerate COVID-19 Research and Freely Shares Results

When researchers at New York University want to use open science practices, they turn to H. Austin Booth and her colleagues at NYU Libraries for support.

The librarians’ expertise is in demand as projects addressing COVID-19 place a premium on information sharing and rapid dissemination of results.

“We’re both a connector in terms of the research technology and a connector with policy,” says Booth, Dean of Libraries. “We are driving open data at NYU and the library is heavily involved in the open science infrastructure conversation on replication.”

The library has been a critical resource as researchers set up their projects and get the word out about their findings. Speed and transparency within science communication have been especially critical during the pandemic. Booth says uploading of the initial genome sequence for COVID-19 on an open access database in January 2020 set the tone for the sharing of data and metadata protocols throughout the pandemic.

“Science is basically iterative. It builds on itself,” says Booth, a member of the SPARC Steering Committee. “Open research during COVID really demonstrates that. This is what all science could look like if we had open. It’s really been quite incredible.”

As NYU received federal funding to examine various aspects of COVID-19, librarians on campus played a central role in making sure the university carried out that commitment to open. Since so much research technology is embedded in the library, it runs all data management services and provides a bridge between research and the university’s response to open policy.

One recent rapid grant to NYU from the National Science Foundation focused on tracking the egress behavior of people around  COVID-19 exposed hospitals and health care clinics. It both incorporated open GIS data in the research and then openly shared the data results in the NYU spatial repository.

A joint project between the NYU hospital system and New York City Hall looked at neighborhood data to create models for testing, contact tracing, and vaccine roll out. Scientists relied on open data and produced information that was made freely available to health centers as leaders determined which interventions to use.

Worldwide data was used in another project to make COVID dashboard to examine the effects of different policies in different countries.  NYU researchers in New York and Abu Dhabi also created a tool to help inform policymakers making important public health decisions, including opening schools.

“It shows how opening up global data and trying to get beyond different countries’ regulations can lead to much better tools,” Booth says.

Results of all of these recent projects such as articles and presentations slides, along with raw data, protocols, metadata, code, and data collection tools to facilitate replication, are open for others to use.

“Without there being rapid peer review, sharing of the data, and preprints all along, the research never would have been at the point it is now,” Booth says. “Open really accelerated the research.”

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