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The need for open access literature and data (evidence-based decision-making)

JULIE-ANN TANGENA: Hello, everyone. My name is Julie-Anne Tangena, and I’m a public-health entomologist working at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Today, I want to talk about evidence-based decision making and the importance of open-access literature and data for vector control. As discussed before, vector-control programmes aim to limit the transmission of diseases by controlling the vector. To develop effective intervention strategies, programmes need to link the local disease dynamics to the most appropriate control methods. To achieve this, evidence-based decision making is crucial.
Your learning outcomes at the end of this lecture will be to be able to explain what evidence-based decision making is, to be able to describe the importance of open-access literature and data for vector control, and to be able to describe the challenges of open-access literature and data. First, let’s start with evidence-based decision making, which is a term often used. As the name already highlights, it is the process of making a decision based on the evidence available. The ideal decision-making process would result in different people coming to the same conclusion when they look at the available evidence. Unfortunately, collating the evidence needed to make decisions is challenging. With access to the internet, we are overwhelmed with information.
So how do you consider the value of different evidence? Critical assessment skills are important to evaluate what is useful information. To help prioritise information, there is an evidence hierarchy consisting of facts, statistical evidence, anecdotal evidence, and analogical evidence. Facts are at the top of the pyramid, as they are the most important evidence to base your decision on, but also, least common. Facts represent actual occurrences that can be verified and confirmed with repeatable experiments. Statistical evidence is the second-most important evidence. Statistics seeks to minimise the uncertainty that is associated with the interpretation of data.
What this means is that statistical evidence provides us with a measure of how uncertain we are about our predictions, as in that a control method actually works. It has its own hierarchy with meta-analysis at the top, which combines data from multiple studies to analyse if the impact is consistent throughout the different studies, and case reports at the bottom, which is a detailed report of an individual patient, the symptoms, and its treatment.
For vector-control programmes, statistical evidence makes up most of their evidence. However, not every control method is studied in every location. The statistical evidence needs to be put into context by experts using their knowledge and relevant local information. This information can be both anecdotal or an illogical. Anecdotal evidence is evidence from a very small sample size, which lacks additional information to further support it. Analogical evidence is evidence that suggests something is true about one thing is also true for another due to their similarities– for example, if an insecticide works in one area to decrease malaria cases, assuming it will also work in a neighbouring area.
Now that we have identified the hierarchy of evidence, we need to identify how we can gain access to this evidence. Both literature and data are accessed from the library or by using online search engines, such as the bibliographic database of the Web of Science. If you’ve ever tried to access literature or data, you will have likely experience some problems, especially if you’re not part of a university. Many papers are in a paper-view format. The difference in accessibility is related to the platform it’s shared on.
Some platforms are open access, which entails that the research content is freely available online for everyone, with no constraints or timeline, including the data underlying the conclusions. Open access is possible because either the author paid the publication costs or an organisation is carrying the costs of maintaining the platform. Open access is essential to support high-quality publications. It provides transparency and supports reproducibility. Everyone can validate, replicate, reanalyze, and reinterpret the research. It can speed up innovation and improve the translation of knowledge. It is also a very beneficial way for researchers to share their work effectively, increasing the impact and reach of the study. More and more funders are now requiring there funded studies to be published in open-access journals.
Students, researchers, and disease-control programmes depend on access to literature and data, especially in developing countries. So next time you’re thinking about publishing, investigate the different journals and their access policy. To further support open access, researchers can make their studies public on preprint services, such as bioRxiv, before formal publication. This provides more instant sharing of results, not delayed by the reviewing process, and provides an opportunity for feedback on the paper before publication. About 80% of journals currently support preprint. Another important way that you can support open access is by-self archiving your research papers on a public service after the embargo period.
A great web page to check the open access policy, preprint acceptance, and embargo period is SHERPA, which lists this information for the different journals. Although researchers are working towards open access of all literature and data, unfortunately, this is not always possible. One major issue is that data cannot be shared due to its sensitive nature, either ethically or politically. Another major challenge is the costs associated with open access. To maintain the database online, continuous investment is required. Moreover, organisations with limited funding cannot pay for the costs associated with open-access publications, consequently, limiting the impact of their research. This disproportionately affects researchers from developing countries.
This limitation is currently being addressed by the increasing number of funders, by ensuring the cost of publication are included in the funding budget, and by providing specific bursaries. I would like to end this lecture by focusing on successful examples of open-access platforms with vector-control programmes. These are platforms that have collated large amounts of data buried in a plethora of journals and reports to present comprehensive data over space and time. The IR Mapper, which maps results from standardised insecticide-resistance tests. Another great example is the Malaria Atlas Project’s interactive maps, which maps variables such as vector distribution and Plasmodium parasite rate.
These databases are labour intensive and challenging to create due to the data-ownership issues, the non-standardised format of the databases, and the high financial input necessary to set up and maintain. However, once established, they form an integral part of the evidence that vector control programmes use. Concluding– open-access literature and data is indispensable for vector-control programmes to develop effective intervention strategies. The more open-access literature and data there is, the better informed control programmes are and the more robust evidence-based decision-making can take place.

In this video, Dr Julie-Anne Akiko Tangena will introduce open-access literature and data, and the importance of this in vector control. Dr Tangena will explain why we need open-access resources, and how these are vital to support evidence-based decision making.

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