A preprint is a complete manuscript posted to a preprint server by authors before peer review and publication in a journal. The goals of preprints are to enable authors to obtain timely feedback and comments on research before submission to a peer-reviewed journal, to claim provenance of an idea, and to facilitate and expedite dissemination of and access to research. Preprints can be amended or updated, commented on by others, and remain on the preprint server even if subsequently published in a journal. They can be cited and indexed and increasingly are given attention in the news and social media.1
Preprints definitely came of age during the awful trials of the COVID-19 pandemic. They provided a means by which scientists could quickly and democratically distribute insights and analysis. It also opened that work to immediate feedback, comments and suggestions. But preprint publication is not without drawbacks. They have not been subject to peer review or editorial scrutiny. This editorial from 2020 takes a look at whether the benefits justify the risks. It is worthwhile noting that flawed and problematic papers are still published by peer reviewed journals and peer review is not without its own serious problem.
Preprint servers, which are increasing in number, host and archive preprint manuscripts. Considered the first preprint server, arXiv was launched in 1991 for physics researchers to share scientific reports with each other before journal publication.2 Before that, in 1961, the US National Institutes of Health began a preprint program for sharing biological preprints, known as Information Exchange Groups, but this program was discontinued in 1967 after journals refused to consider submissions previously posted as preprints.3 In 2013, bioRxiv was launched for preprints in biology and the life sciences, and in 2019, medRxiv, dedicated to health sciences, began. As of September 2020, there were at least 61 public preprint servers covering many disciplines; one-third (21) of these have been launched since 2018, and an increasing number permit the posting of preprints in medicine and health.4 Preprint servers are managed and supported by a range of financial models, including support from professional societies, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and funders, and more recently, large publishers, and some servers require a fee for preprint posting.
Flanagin A., Fontanarosa PB., Bauchner H. (2020) Preprints Involving Medical Research—Do the Benefits Outweigh the Challenges? JAMA. 2020;324(18):1840–1843. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.20674
Publisher (Open Access): https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2772743