Currently, most scientific collaborations are symmetric: The project is shared, leading to shared authorship of eventual papers. These collaborations are great, but they are not the only ones worth fostering.
Asymmetric collaborations, where one researcher simply helps another, are of enormous value. A brief discussion about a protocol, for instance, can save weeks of trial-and-error; a recommendation for the correct statistical test can save a retraction. Today, these asymmetric collaborations only happen among friends or close colleagues. And even then, they must rely on pure altruism.
Our experience with covid-19 showed that asymmetric collaborations can easily be established across the world, the enormous value they can add, and that many become symmetric long-term collaboration that benefit both parties. We also developed a documentation method that credits every contribution.
We see a landscape of scientific collaborations, depending on how much effort they require and how much value they add. High-value collaborations must be promoted in all cases, even when they are strongly asymmetric. Intermediate-value ones require more symmetry, but even non-synergistic collaborations can make sense for scientific emergencies that require focusing effort in a single topic. Therefore, we adapt our activity to the topic: For general requests we stay at the high-value corner of the landscape, while for socially relevant issues we cover a wider area.