Australian scientists build experts’ database to track Covid-19 developments

Australian scientists build experts' database to track Covid-19 developments

More than 3,000 eminent scientists, researchers, and experts have come together to build a consolidated research hub to help manage Australia’s Covid-19 crisis, providing an invaluable tool to guide decision-makers in government and industry.

Under the collaboration, local scientists will build out a searchable database, pooling knowledge from experts across a range of fields and providing a shared resource for public agencies and researchers to monitor, navigate and respond to the virus’s spread.

The aptly named Covid-19 Expert Database and partnership program is headed by the Australian Academy of Science.

Speaking with FST Government, project leader and chief information officer at the Australian Academy of Science, Christopher Warren, said the database, which is accessible via a web interface, will allow individuals “to easily search experts through a variety of parameters such as location and expertise”.

Chief executive at the Australian Academy of Science, Anna-Maria Arabia, said the database would enable governments, business and research groups to source expertise from across any number of relevant fields of research, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health, humanities, arts, and social science.

“By gathering the extraordinary expertise in one place, Australian academies offer governments and others an opportunity to consult experts and take actions that are evidence-informed and targeted,” Arabia said.

Earlier, Australia’s chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, canvassed the creation of such a database to help policymakers and industry respond to the pandemic.

Among others, Professor John Shine, president of the Australian Academy of Science, noted that Australia’s public health measures to slow Covid-19’s spread needed to be more robust.

He urged Australian authorities to fully leverage scientists’ expertise to deepen understanding of Covid-19 and further sharpen responses.

“That is why the Australian Government must make public the scientific evidence that is informing its thinking,” Shine said.

The open publication of data and evidence supporting government decisions has galvanised data scientists, immunologists, virologists, geneticists, epidemiologists, mathematicians and biostatisticians. According to Shine, scientific knowledge can effectively be pooled in order to help solve a global crisis.

Transparency and evidence-based decision-making must be at the core of governments’ response, Professor Shine said. “It is critical that the public has confidence that governments are basing their decisions on the most up-to-date scientific advice and evidence.”

While Australian governments had acted on the advice of health and medical professions, he believed “more could be done by publishing the data and evidence underpinning their response.”

Australia’s Covid-19 Expert Database research partners include the Australian Academy of Science, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences, Australian Academy of the Humanities, Australian Council of Learned Academies, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

The Database is built on Drupal 7’s open-source platform and leverages MySQL querying software and Redis Memory Cache to ensure high-performance and manage bottlenecks and error rates, Warren said.

Data will reside at a Sydney-based data centre with redundant infrastructure services being managed in Melbourne.

Prospective contributors can register their interest through the Australian Academy of Science’s website.