A series aimed at opening the dialogue surrounding preprint usage in the clinical community. Run by the ASAPbio Fellows Vanessa Bortoluzzi, Kirsty Ferguson, Suraj Kannan and Aleksandra Petelski.
Today, scientific discovery moves at a faster pace than even a decade ago . However, the publishing process required by journals does not seem able to keep up with this momentum . One could expect that with ever-growing technologies available to speed up communication, publishing times would be reduced; however, the median time between submission and acceptance of a paper has hovered at around 100 days for more than 30 years. Most of this time is spent in the peer-review process .
Such a sluggish journey from submission to acceptance is detrimental to scientific discovery and may even impact real-life decisions. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, required additional, faster modes of communication to allow new data to be shared rapidly. Preprints—scientific manuscripts uploaded by the authors to a public server before peer review and acceptance by a journal —have been playing a pivotal role in accelerating scientific communication during this crisis. Within just 4 months of the first confirmed case, the scientific community had already released over 16,000 COVID-19-related scientific articles, of which at least 6,000 were hosted by preprint servers [5,6].
“Preprint articles hosted by the likes of medRxiv or ResearchGate are being widely used by clinical teams all around the world as their outlet of choice for the latest information. What’s become really apparent during COVID is that, for clinicians, open research is particularly vital and achievable. We’ve seen a complete change in how clinical research has been shared” .
Dr Karin Purshouse, ECAT Clinical Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Specialty Registrar in Medical Oncology at Edinburgh Cancer Centre, UK (June 2020)
There are concerns that sharing clinical research prior to peer-review could risk leading clinicians to act based on data that may later be revealed as flawed . Some clinical journals even have explicit policies stating they will not consider manuscripts previously posted as preprints , whereas others in the clinical community consider the usage of preprints in medicine a debate worth having . These concerns are understandable; the scientific community has long been reliant on peer review as a mechanism to screen and validate research before publication. Although peer review plays an important certification role, the process is not perfect; a study comparing preprinted and published versions of the same paper found only marginal improvement on the quality of reporting after peer review , and peer-reviewed articles may be subject to scrutiny after publication and on occasion, found to contain flaws that require correction or retraction. Scientific knowledge is built based on the validation, critique and refinement of earlier work, preprints provide a complementary avenue for this process by allowing the scientific community (and not only the two or three reviewers involved in journal peer review) to scrutinize and review the latest work.
In academic life sciences research, preprints are becoming an accepted part of the publication process in several disciplines, and the number of available preprint servers has grown over the last five years. This endorsement has been slower in the clinical community; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a wave that intends to continue. Through Clinician’s Corner, we hope to understand clinicians’ views, hopes, and concerns regarding open science and how preprints are becoming part of the way in which they engage with the literature. We wish to foster a dialogue surrounding research communication in medicine, build a trustworthy community to share findings and experiences and support the value of preprints as a complementary approach to disseminate biomedical research. Preprints are here to stay, it is of the utmost importance to engage with clinical researchers and to bring in their expertise in evaluating the significance and quality of clinical studies to ensure we maximize the value of preprints for the clinical community.
If you would like to contribute to this initiative, for example by contributing interviews or sharing ideas for topics we should cover, please get in touch—we would love to hear your views*. Welcome, and we look forward to sharing our next post covering an interview with open-science advocate Dr Karin Purshouse, ECAT Clinical Lecturer in Medical Oncology and PhD Fellow at University of Edinburgh.
1. 21st Century Science Overload | Canadian Science Publishing. Accessed July 10, 2020. http://blog.cdnsciencepub.com/21st-century-science-overload/
2. Powell K. The waiting game. Nature. 2016;530(7589):148-151. doi:10.1038/530148a
3. The history of publishing delays. Accessed July 10, 2020. https://blog.dhimmel.com/history-of-delays/
4. Preprint FAQ – ASAPbio. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://asapbio.org/preprint-info/preprint-faq#qaef-637
5. Fraser N, Brierley L, Dey G, Polka JK, Pálfy M, Coates JA. Preprinting a pandemic: the role of preprints in the COVID-19 pandemic. bioRxiv. Published online 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.05.22.111294
6. COVID-19 Portfolio | Home. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://icite.od.nih.gov/covid19/search/
7. Embracing the Value of Preprints on the Frontlines of COVID-19 Patient Care – SPARC. Accessed September 29, 2020. https://sparcopen.org/news/2020/embracing-the-value-of-preprints-on-the-frontlines-of-covid-19-patient-care/
8. Else H. How to bring preprints to the charged field of medicine. Nature. Published online June 6, 2019. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01806-2
9. Leopold SS, Haddad FS, Sandell LJ, Swiontkowski M. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, The Bone & Joint Journal, the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery Will Not Accept Clinical Research Manuscripts Previously Posted to Preprint Servers*. J Bone Jt Surg. 2019;101(1):1-4. doi:10.2106/jbjs.18.01215
10. Maslove DM. Medical preprints-a debate worth having. JAMA – J Am Med Assoc. 2018;319(5):443-444. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17566
11. Carneiro CF, Queiroz VG, Moulin TC, Carvalho CA, Haas CB, Rayêe D, Henshall DE, De-Souza EA, Amorim FE, Boos FZ, Guercio GD, Costa IR, Hajdu KL, van Egmond L, Modrák M, Tan PB, Abdill RJ, Burgess SJ, Guerra SF, Bortoluzzi VT, Amaral OB. Comparing quality of reporting between preprints and peer-reviewed articles in the biomedical literature. bioRxiv. Published online 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/581892