Will COVID-19 mark the end of scientific publishing as we know it?

“Under the pressure of a global health crisis, the argument for open access has sunk in. Following calls from the World Health Organization and government leaders, over 150 publishers, companies, and research institutions have agreed to temporarily make all content related to COVID-19 free to read, ensuring efforts to understand the virus can go forth undeterred….

Is this the catalyst that breaks up the bonds of an old publishing model once and for all? …”

Assessment of Preprint Policies of Top-Ranked Clinical Journals | Medical Journals and Publishing

Abstract:  Introduction

The clinical research community has adopted the use of preprint servers, which provide outlets for preliminary reports of research that has not been peer-reviewed.1 Preprint servers support open scholarship, allow research to be disseminated quickly, offer opportunities for peer feedback before formal submission to a journal, and have been increasingly adopted by the biological, physical, and economic scientific communities.2-4 However, for preprint potential to be realized in clinical research, peer-reviewed journals must be willing to consider manuscripts that were previously posted on preprint servers (preprints) for publication. Because systematic information about contemporary clinical journal policies on preprints is lacking,5 our objective was to assess the preprint publication policies of the 100 clinical journals with the highest impact factors.

 

Methods

This cross-sectional study followed the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) reporting guideline. For this study, we used InCites Journal Citation Reports (JCR) to identify journals across all fields with a 2018 journal impact factor greater than 5. We manually screened all identified journals by title and categories on JCR to find the 100 top-ranked clinical journals and included only those that publish original research.

For each qualifying journal, we checked a succession of resources to ascertain its editorial policy on preprints: the journal website; the publisher website; the Transpose Database6; and the first 10 pages of a Google search containing the journal name and the term preprint. Once a preprint policy was located, we classified each journal’s policy by the following categories: preprints allowed (if preprints will be considered for publication), case-by-case determination (if preprints are evaluated on an individual basis), and preprints prohibited (if preprints will not be considered for publication). Data were collected on April 23, 2020. We conducted descriptive analyses using Microsoft Excel (Microsoft Corporation).

Results

Among the 100 top-ranked clinical journals, the median (interquartile range) impact factor was 13.7 (10.7-19.0). Most journals (86 [86%]) allowed preprints (Table 1). In contrast, 13 journals (13%) evaluated each preprint independently to determine whether to reject it on the basis of its prior preprint status (case-by-case determination). Only 1 journal (1%) had a policy that prohibited preprints (preprints prohibited). There was no association between the median impact factor and the category of preprint policy (Table 2).

10 tips for submitting a successful preprint | Nature Index

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only accelerated the already rapid growth in submissions of preprints in the biological sciences, but has brought them to the public’s attention as never before.

For example, the medical sciences preprint server medRxiv has already posted more than 3,200 preprints related to the disease. In April, it recorded 10 million views from scientists and the general public.

Many authors in the biological and medical sciences are new to the format. Nature Index asked five experts for their advice on preprint etiquette and best practice….”

Coronavirus Research Moves Faster than Medical Journals

“Many of the coronavirus-related papers being posted on MedRxiv are rushed and flawed, and some are terrible. But a lot report serious research findings, some of which will eventually find their way into prestigious journals, which have been softening their stance on previously released research. (“We encourage posting to preprint servers as a way to share information immediately,” emails Jennifer Zeis, director of communications at the New England Journal of Medicine.) In the meantime, the research is out there, being commented on and followed up on by other scientists, and reported on in the news media. The journals, which normally keep their content behind steep paywalls, are also offering coronavirus articles outside of it. New efforts to sort through the resulting bounty of available research are emerging, from a group of Johns Hopkins University scholars sifting manually through new Covid-19 papers to a 59,000-article machine-readable data set, requested by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and enabled by an assortment of tech corporations and academic and philanthropic organizations, that is meant to be mined for insights using artificial intelligence and other such means.

This is the future for scientific communication that has been predicted since the spread of the internet began to enable it in the early 1990s (and to some extent long before then), yet proved slow and fitful in its arrival. It involves more or less open access to scientific research and data, and a more-open review process with a much wider range of potential peers than the peer review offered by journals. For its most enthusiastic boosters, it is also an opportunity to break through disciplinary barriers, broaden and improve the standards for research success and generally just make science work better. To skeptics, it means abandoning high standards and a viable economic model for research publishing in favor of a chaotic, uncertain new approach.

I’m mostly on the side of the boosters here, but have learned during five years of writing on and off about academic publishing that the existing way of doing things is quite well entrenched, and that would-be innovators often misunderstand the challenges involved in displacing or replacing it….”

Covid-19 is reshaping the world of bioscience publishing – STAT

“One important innovation in bioscience publishing is the rise of preprint servers, sites that put manuscripts online without peer review. Long an accepted practice in physics and math through the arXiv (pronounced Archive) web server, this approach to disseminating research has come to the biomedical sciences through bioRxiv and medRxiv….

bioRxiv was launched and run out of Cold Spring Harbor Labs in 2013, and is supported by a number of non-profit entities. Submissions to it, and the more recently launched medRxiv, are growing exponentially, now exceeding 80,000.

Most conventional biomedical publishers initially viewed preprints as “prior publication” that would preclude subsequent acceptance by peer reviewed journals. This objection has fallen by the wayside in response to widespread support for the value that preprints confer. Preprints unquestionably enable rapid communication of results, in contrast to conventional pre-publication peer review, which delays the time from submission to publication for months — and sometimes for years.

It is now clear that many preprints generate rapid, extensive, and effective reviews after they are posted through readers’ comments on the site, as well as on social media platforms such as Twitter. Fears that preprints would promote many erroneous claims because they lack pre-publication peer review have not proven correct, though much more research on this topic is needed….

bioRxiv published its first preprint on the novel coronavirus on January 19, 2020, and it has been on a roll ever since, with 33 papers in January, 281 in February, and more than 500 in total as I write this. bioRxiv is currently receiving 25 to 30 scientific papers day on this topic, with the majority now going to medRxiv, the more clinically oriented site.

In a recent discussion I had with Richard Sever, cofounder of both bioRxiv and medRxiv, he told me that about 40% of Covid-19 papers are from China, but that fraction is changing as the infection extends across the world. Given the intense international interest in these papers, the editors established a modified procedure whereby all coronavirus and Covid-19 papers are examined by a group of domain experts — not to provide reviews but to assess whether the work is serious, screening out the very few that might raise questions or be dangerous if they were false. The group asks authors of the rare screened-out manuscripts to submit them elsewhere for peer review….”

Sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak | Wellcome

“We call on researchers, journals and funders to ensure that research findings and data relevant to this outbreak are shared rapidly and openly to inform the public health response and help save lives.

We affirm the commitment to the principles set out in the 2016 Statement on data sharing in public health emergencies, and will seek to ensure that the World Health Organization (WHO) has rapid access to emerging findings that could aid the global response….

Specifically, we commit to work together to help ensure:

all peer-reviewed research publications relevant to the outbreak are made immediately open access, or freely available at least for the duration of the outbreak
research findings relevant to the outbreak are shared immediately with the WHO upon journal submission, by the journal and with author knowledge
research findings are made available via preprint servers before journal publication, or via platforms that make papers openly accessible before peer review, with clear statements regarding the availability of underlying data
researchers share interim and final research data relating to the outbreak, together with protocols and standards used to collect the data, as rapidly and widely as possible – including with public health and research communities and the WHO
authors are clear that data or preprints shared ahead of submission will not pre-empt its publication in these journals….”

Preprints and Scholarly Communication: An… | F1000Research

Abstract:  Background: Since 2013, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of preprint servers. Little is known about the position of researchers, funders, research performing organisations and other stakeholders with respect to this fast-paced landscape. In this article, we explore the perceived benefits and challenges of preprint posting, alongside issues including infrastructure and financial sustainability. We also discuss the definition of a ‘preprint’ in different communities, and the impact this has on uptake.

Methods: This study is based on 38 semi-structured interviews of key stakeholders, based on a purposive heterogeneous sampling approach and undertaken between October 2018 and January 2019. Interviewees were primarily drawn from biology, chemistry and psychology, where use of preprints is growing. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and subjected to thematic analysis to identify trends. Interview questions were designed based on Innovation Diffusion Theory, which was also used to interpret our results.

Results: Participants were conscious of the rising prominence of preprints and cited early and fast dissemination as their most appealing feature. Preprints were also considered to enable broader access to scientific literature and increased opportunities for informal commenting. The main concerns related to the lack of quality assurance and the ‘Ingelfinger rule’. We identified trust as an essential factor in preprint posting, and highlight the enabling role of Twitter in showcasing preprints.

Conclusions: The preprints landscape is evolving fast, and disciplinary communities are at different stages in the innovation diffusion process. The landscape is characterised by experimentation, which leads to the conclusion that a one-size-fits-all approach to preprints is not feasible. Cooperation and active engagement between the stakeholders involved will play an important role going forward. We share questions for the further development of the preprints landscape, with the most important being whether preprint posting will develop as a publisher- or researcher-centric practice.

Peer review and preprint policies are unclear at most major journals | bioRxiv

Abstract:  Clear and findable publishing policies are important for authors to choose appropriate journals for publication. We investigated the clarity of policies of 171 major academic journals across disciplines regarding peer review and preprinting. 31.6% of journals surveyed do not provide information on the type of peer review they use. Information on whether preprints can be posted or not is unclear in 39.2% of journals. 58.5% of journals offer no clear information on whether reviewer identities are revealed to authors. Around 75% of journals have no clear policy on co-reviewing, citation of preprints, and publication of reviewer identities. Information regarding practices of Open Peer Review is even more scarce, with <20% of journals providing clear information. Having found a lack of clear information, we conclude by examining the implications this has for researchers (especially early career) and the spread of open research practices.

 

Coronavirus Research Is Moving at Top Speed—With a Catch | WIRED

“Traditional journals have activated various emergency protocols to speed things up during the outbreak—faster publication cycles and dropped paywalls, primarily. Teams of scientists around the world are bypassing them anyway, communicating not only their early-days conclusions but also their methods and approaches. Researchers say this time the speed and sheer number of preprints has been unprecedented.

That’s good! Because it makes science faster and better, and it’s helping life scientists join other fields in embracing a new mode. But it’s also a little scary. Scientists aren’t the only ones who can download a preprint. That opens up the work to possible misunderstanding or misinterpretation….

It helps, too, that biomedical journals have gotten a lot clearer about their willingness to publish, after traditional review, articles that have already been out in the world via preprint servers. That wasn’t always the case….”

The prehistory of biology preprints: A forgotten experiment from the 1960s

Abstract:  In 1961, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to circulate biological preprints in a forgotten experiment called the Information Exchange Groups (IEGs). This system eventually attracted over 3,600 participants and saw the production of over 2,500 different documents, but by 1967, it was effectively shut down following the refusal of journals to accept articles that had been circulated as preprints. This article charts the rise and fall of the IEGs and explores the parallels with the 1990s and the biomedical preprint movement of today.