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Peer review a preprint and $1000 for your preprint that reports a negative result
The publishing, perception and citation of preprints has gained significant popularity in the biomedical and life sciences. Preprints are preliminary publications that have not yet undergone peer review. Most researchers are familiar with the preprint servers relevant to their field, such as bioRxiv and medRxiv, and are aware that results and conclusions from preprints have a preliminary character, precisely because they lack peer review quality control. However, according to one study, only 7% of all preprints had to make changes to their conclusions in the abstract after peer review (1), suggesting that the information shared in preprints typically withstand the scrutiny of peer review.
It has been shown that articles are cited 36% more (2) and get more attention on Twitter (3) when they have been published in advance as a preprint. Since April 2022, Europe PMC indexes full text preprints from public preprint servers, which increases their discoverability and makes their content amenable to text and data mining.
Preprints are an opportunity for early career researchers to participate in the scientific discussion at an early stage and thus increase their own visibility as scientists. Participation can happen in a variety of ways - via preprint journal clubs (e.g. ReproducibiliTea), preprint podcasts (e.g. Preprints in Motion) or directly as a reviewer for preprints (at preLights early career researchers highlight and discuss preprints by writing a "News & Views" piece about them).
Concerns and criticisms of preprints
Despite obvious advantages of preprints (see above), preprinting is not yet practiced by the majority of researchers, also because there are fundamental reservations. For example, some researchers are concerned that early accessibility for everyone make preprint servers dangerous - especially when dealing with preprints that address clinical practice issues. The public and patients may be presented with unsubstantiated claims about what is supposed to be relevant to diseases or cures, even though they lack the necessary context to interpret them. However, this argument applies to a certain degree also to articles published in peer-reviewed journals, because the peer-review process, while an important quality assurance measure, is not always perfect and objective, and the article content is not readily understandable by laypersons. Readers of preprints and journal articles need to be able to contextualize and evaluate results. Preprint servers are aware of their responsibility. MedRxiv clearly states: "Caution: Preprints are preliminary reports of work that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behavior and should not be reported in news media as established information." Furthermore, preprints (including the downloaded PDF version) are marked "not certified by peer review." Concerns about non-peer-reviewed research are nonetheless serious. Similar to scientists who cite peer-reviewed papers or preprints, authors and journalists have an obligation to critically review the preprints they cite and communicate their status to readers, ideally seeking independent expert opinion for comment.
Preprint peer review
Recent developments, namely the establishment of peer review platforms that certify preprints through peer review, will help to address concerns about preprints as unreviewed science. At the same time, peer review platforms create greater transparency within the scientific community because peer reviews are publicly available.
Preprint reviews have the potential to increase trust in preprints and drive innovation in peer review. To facilitate the preprint review process, several platforms for open peer review of preprints were launched. Examples of platforms that enable peer review of preprints include Peer Community In, PeerRef, PREreview, and Review Commons. A key feature of these platforms is that they are all independent of journals and independent of preprint platforms. Despite this independence, links between journals and peer review platforms emerge in order to speed up the publication process: for example, Review Commons offers direct submission of a preprint to one of the 17 affiliated journals, once peer reviews are received.
If, as a reviewer for a journal, you want to write a review of an article that was published as a preprint, you can publish your peer review report in parallel on a peer review platform. The PublishYourReviews initiative shows how to do this.
The co-existence of several peer review platforms can confuse researchers in their decision where to post their peer reviews or read reviews of their colleagues. Moreover, a preprint can be posted on multiple platforms and can receive reviews on each of them. To keep track of preprint reviews, Early Evidence Base is a useful tool. It is a search engine for preprints that are linked to preprint reviews.
ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in biology) is a scientist-driven nonprofit organization, which promotes the productive use of preprints for dissemination of research results, as well as transparent peer review and feedback on all research results. To recognize the value of negative/null or inconclusive scientific results and the value of preprints as publication outlets, ASAPbio has now launched a competition where preprints that report a negative or inconclusive result as the main result can be rewarded with $1000. More information can be found on the ASAPbio website.
- Brierley L, Nanni F, Polka JK, Dey G, Pálfy M, Fraser N, u. a. Preprints in motion: tracking changes between preprint posting and journal publication during a pandemic. bioRxiv 2021.02.20.432090; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.20.432090
- Fu DY, Hughey JJ. Releasing a preprint is associated with more attention and citations for the peer-reviewed article. eLife. 6. Dezember 2019;8:e52646; doi: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.52646
- Fraser N, Momeni F, Mayr P, Peters I. The relationship between bioRxiv preprints, citations and altmetrics. Quantitative Science Studies. 1. April 2020;1–21; doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/qss_a_00043