Science versus Corona – An Interview

At the moment, the Coronavirus is impacting different elements of our lives: health, work, social contacts, etc. As the virus continues to impact our world, scientists from a variety of fields have taken up the cause to better understand the virus. This is not only in the fields of health, but psychology, epidemiology, sociology, and more. Since so many research fields are involved, how could we combine all of this information?

Four researchers at the Psychological Methods department of the University of Amsterdam had an idea and started the Science versus Corona initiative. We had a chance to interview the founders Denny Borsboom, Tessa Blanken, Charlotte Tanis, and Fabian Dablander.

Upper row from left to right: Tessa Blanken and Charlotte Tanis. Bottom row from left to right: Fabian Dablander and Denny Borsboom.

Recently you introduced two new “platforms”: Data versus Corona and Strategies versus Corona. Can you explain what these entail?

These two platforms are both part of the larger initiative Science versus Corona, a project that unites experts from different disciplines to join together in the fight against the Coronavirus.

We started Data versus Corona as a way to connect researchers and data scientists with teams, organisations, and initiatives that work on problems related to the novel coronavirus and who could need a helping hand with all things data.

Emboldened by this initial success, we started Strategies versus Corona, an Open Science and Citizen Science based initiative to generate, model, and evaluate different exit strategies.

What is the goal of this initiative?

The goal of our two initiatives is to help fight the novel coronavirus and its devastating effects on society. We do this by helping researchers with data analysis through Data versus Corona. While the ‘intelligent lockdown’ has curbed the spread of the virus and saved lives, it also has costly side-effects on the economy and the psychological well-being of all citizens. We therefore need to think about exit strategies. Thus, at Strategies versus Corona, we try to combine the expertise from researchers from many different fields into developing an adequate exit strategy out of the current lockdown.

What inspired you to start this initiative?

When the Corona crisis started to hit, we saw many people who wanted to help out and contribute, but did not know where to start. At the same time, lots of data became available, on infections, symptoms and mental health. We wanted to bring these together in Data versus Corona, to offer a platform where people with Corona-related data can find the expertise to answer their research questions. Together, we hope to provide valuable insights into the Corona crisis.

When the current lockdown measures started to take shape, we realized we also need to start thinking about a way out, and that was how Strategies versus Corona started. How do we decrease these measures without devastating the ICU’s and medical staff, while protecting those most vulnerable. By combining expertise from economics to epidemiology and by following Open Science principles, we aim for the fastest route to a sound exit strategy.

How is it going so far?

It is going really well! We are amazed by the amount of people who are willing to donate their time, effort, and skills to help fight this corona crisis. In a short time, 140 scientists joined to work on data analysis and exit strategies.

Could you give us an example of one of the projects for each platform?

We have now started a blog on in which we explain the different projects that we are working on. In the first blogpost Caspar van Lissa explains how he and his team from Data versus Corona have curated open-access country-level data on COVID-19 to facilitate research. Check out the blog and our Twitter for more updates on the projects we are running!

What impact do you think that your initiative could have on coronavirus research and/or open science?

Some of our Data versus Corona projects actively support researchers who investigate the effect of the coronavirus on psychological outcomes with sound statistical advice and data analysis. So this is a direct impact.

Through Strategies versus Corona, we are mobilizing experts from, among other areas, epidemiology, psychology, computer science, communication research, and economics, as well as everyday citizens in the fight against the coronavirus. This will hopefully aid the development, understanding, and critical evaluation of exit strategies.

There have been discussions on the quality of the Coronavirus research due to the speed on which these studies develop. How do you think you can safeguard the quality of these studies?

We think that especially in a crisis situation where speed is of the essence, it is necessary to look at solutions with a wide range of people who are experts in their field. In a high pressure environment, it’s easy to make small mistakes. By opening up code, and having many people look at the same problem we can prevent that and come to the best solutions.

How can students get involved?

To join Data versus Corona, students can fill out this form asking about their relevant expertise. We will then invite you to our Slack workspace where you can work together with others on a project.

For Strategies versus Corona, we are currently in the idea generation phase in which we crowdsource exit strategies and criteria on which they should be evaluated. Students can submit ideas via the website.

Is there anything that you would like to add?

Don’t touch your face! And call your grandparents 😉

Thank you very much for this interview!

Do you want to know more about Science versus Corona? Check:

Interview by: Molly Rooyakkers and Myrthe Veenman