In response to two November 2021 articles in The Scientist that called out preprints as a source of medical misinformation, the cofounders of bioRxiv and medRxiv say it’s not the publishing model that’s at fault.
A recent article by Michael Mullins in The Scientist and an accompanying editorial by the publication’s editor-in-chief point to the dangers of disseminating un-peer-reviewed biomedical research in the form of preprints. Both contain factual inaccuracies and misunderstandings.
We are big fans of preprint as a publishing model. To address the elephant in the room, yes it has been abused by charlatans and cheats, it has also been used to add an academic veneer to crazy and dangerous theories. Some of which have been forestalled by the peer review and editorial processes of traditional journals. But some of the flawed work is published by traditional publishers and it can take many years (if not decades) to correct the problem . The advantages of the preprint model are not insignificant. Such as the democratisation of knowledge, the rapidity of distribution and transparent error correction.
There are two important lessons here. First, the universal availability of the internet and social networks mean that this type of information can be easily disseminated independently of preprints. Second, peer-reviewed journals may not effectively function as gatekeepers: Raoult’s paper was published after alleged peer review despite its flaws and, as of today, still has not been retracted. Preprints provide an opportunity for the scientific community to discuss new work, and indeed many researchers pointed out the flaws in the Raoult manuscript in medRxiv’s comment section and elsewhere. Additionally, the “more-sober analysis” Mullins refers to showing “HCQ has no proven role” was itself a preprint posted to medRxiv in July 2020.