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….”