“ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology) 3 is a group of biology researchers that promotes preprint publication and has produced a number of studies that attempt to allay concerns about its quality, claiming, for example, that published articles previously submitted to a preprint server did not show relevant changes for its publication 4. Authors from this group have argued that the current approaches to evaluate research and researchers hold back a more widespread adoption of the preprint methodology 5, which would explain its relatively small participation on the general panorama of scientific publication.
Despite claims to the contrary, however, there are examples of poor studies published as preprints, which caused undesirable consequences in public health. Two methodologically flawed studies about a protective effect of tobacco smoking against COVID-19 (one of which has an author with known connections with the tobacco industry), for example, increased the commercialization of tobacco products in France and Iran 6 and a virology study that erroneously stated that the SARS-COV-2 virus had “HIV insertions” fueled conspiracy theories about the former virus being a bioweapon, which lingered on even after the preprint was removed from the server due to its egregious errors 7. Studies have found that much of the public discussion and even policy was indeed driven by what was published in preprints rather than in scientific journals 7,8,9,10, thus, quality issues are a major cause of concern.
On the other hand, similar errors have been observed within traditional publishing; the publication of a poor quality paper with undisclosed conflicts of interest in one of the most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet, which became the trigger for the contemporary wave of anti-vaccine activism, is a major, and regretful, example. Understanding to what extent this problem is likely to occur with or without gatekeeping mechanisms is necessary.
Preprint advocates countered that the effect of poor science disseminated via preprints would be lessened by media reporting that explicitly indicated that those studies did not undergo any peer review and, thus, required more criticism and reserve before being considered essential sources for a public debate. It was probably the case of South African media 8, but in Brazil, a study found that less than 40% of preprint-based reports on mass media clearly showed their provisional character 11….”