Opinion: preprints in public

T.The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the growth of preprints. For scientists and health professionals, the pandemic has sparked the need to share research on COVID-19, but for the time being, as soon as possible to better understand its pathology, find new therapeutic options, and educate policy makers. The public demand for information about COVID-19 has led to an increase in media coverage of research results published as preprints. Even before the pandemic, scientists were asked to better understand the work of journalists, and the pandemic has made it necessary to bridge the science-media gap, particularly in relation to conveying scientific uncertainty.

Last year, ASAPbio conducted the # bioPreprints2020 questionnaire, an online survey of a variety of stakeholders including librarians, researchers, journalists, and funders to understand perceived benefits and concerns about preprints. ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology) is a scientifically operated non-profit organization committed to promoting innovation and transparency in communication in the life sciences through the productive use of preprints and open peer review. Unsurprisingly, the possibility of early media coverage of preprints was the main concern of respondents. This was the case for both those who had published research results as preprints and those who had not.

The media community is facing severe time and competitive pressures that make it a challenge to conduct an independent review and validation of research results published as preprints.

To address this problem, ASAPbio started and coordinated the Preprints in the Public Eye project in September 2020 with the support of the Open Society Foundations. As far as ASAPbio is known, the project was the first step in bringing together stakeholders from academia and academia.Media communities need to agree on common principles for media coverage of research results published as preprints in order to reduce the risk of publishing potentially erroneous or overly preliminary research results to reduce.

Representatives of preprint servers, publishers and research institutions (including institutional press offices) as well as editors, researchers and journalists took part in the project. The project is now complete and the results are a series of documents that contain recommendations for preprint servers to identify preprints and for institutions and researchers to communicate about research, including with the media. For journalists and science writers, there are tips and links to resources to help discover research results that have been published as preprints where the science has been assessed, for example by a journal-independent peer review service.

Preprint server

As part of the preprint labeling arm of the project, we carried out a user experience study to determine whether readers notice the labels currently on preprint servers, whether they can distinguish between a preprint and an article that has been checked by experts, and what that means makes labels more eye-catching and easier to understand. The users were five lay people, three journalists, three researchers, and one clinician. The results indicated the need for tangible labeling and clarity of the screening criteria used to determine what is published on a preprint server.

While the document for preprint servers focuses on the transparency of the review criteria and the lack of conventional peer review by the preprint server, there was much discussion among project participants about the nuances of peer reviewing preprints. For example, some preprints have been traditionally peer reviewed and published in a journal. Some are peer-reviewed through journal-independent peer review services, while others are subjected to community review, either through direct comments on the preprint or through another community – performing peer review or curation activities.

The flaws of traditional peer review have been reiterated several times, and the rise in the rate of withdrawn peer review articles calls into question the notion that traditional peer review alone is a reliable form of validation. The stakeholder discussions highlighted the need to move beyond attitudes that focus on the presence or absence of traditional peer reviews towards an approach that promotes a standardized and responsible way of discussing all research results for all stakeholders. While this discussion is not directly reflected in the recommendations for preprints, those involved in the project agreed that the quality of research should not be determined by its peer-reviewed status, but by the level of scrutiny the research has undergone, and whether this feedback (which may come from different sources) is positive or critical.

Institutions and researchers

Project participants made recommendations for institutions and researchers on how to talk to the media community about research. The institutional document promotes transparency about the level of independent scrutiny and the limits of research, and promotes the provision of guidance and assistance to researchers in communicating about their work in a variety of media.

One point that was and remains controversial is the question of whether institutions should actively promote media research that has been published as a preprint and does not yet need to be subjected to independent scrutiny. Some stakeholders strongly believed that this should not be the case and that in cases where active promotion of information was in the interest of public health or safety, an internal risk assessment should be carried out prior to such promotion. While this is understandable for medical and biomedical research, funding for research published as preprints in the media is the norm for some areas and some institutions. We recognized this in the Guiding Principles document as an issue that is still open to debate.

The researcher document is similar and encourages researchers to discuss the peer-reviewed status and limitations of their work, avoid overwriting their results, and work with their institutional press offices.

Journalists and science writers

The media community is facing severe time and competitive pressures that make it a challenge to conduct an independent review and validation of research results published as preprints. To address this, the Guiding Principles aim to make it easier for media representatives to identify research under study. The guidelines extend the existing document Effective Use of Preprints: Tips for Communicators and contain resources to help journalists identify preprints that have been subject to expert evaluation. In addition, by encouraging scientists about the Guiding Principles for Researchers to talk about the limits of their research, and by encouraging preprint servers to include important information in their labeling, it is intended to make it easier for anyone to understand the level of the exam taking a piece Research has gone through.

Jigisha Patel is an independent research integrity specialist. She was employed at ASAPbio as the project coordinator for the preprints in the Public Eye project.

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