How the world is adapting to preprints

“A certain trend emerged from the preprint discussions. Praise for preprints and their virtues was reliably bracketed by an acknowledgement that the medium was a bit green and a bit untamed: the Wild West of scientific publishing, where anything can happen.

Similar analogies from the publishing community have been abundant. At a talk organized by the Society for Scholarly Publishing, Shirley Decker-Lucke, Content Director at SSRN, likened preprints to raw oysters: They’re generally safe, but sometimes you get a bad one. On the same panel, Lyle Ostrow, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Johns Hopkins, compared the adoption of preprints to the shift from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles: They’re faster, they’re better, but they will require education to use safely. The following week, a Scholarly Kitchen article about preprints drew a parallel with unruly teenagers: “tremendous promise, but in need of more adult supervision to achieve their potential”….

As it is, most preprint servers have not been agnostic about the papers they post. Generally, they restrict passage of content that is clearly unscientific, unethical, potentially harmful or not representative of a novel, empirically derived finding. That is, they already impose some editorial standards.

Preprint platforms offer authors a legitimate place to host their work with unprecedented speed, for free. In time, they could be in a position to enforce, or at least strongly incentivize, standards that are widely acknowledged to support research integrity, like data and code availability, details of randomization and blinding, study limitations and lay summaries for findings that are consequential to human health….”