Post by Sandra Franco Iborra and Iratxe Puebla
While preprints have been adopted as a means to promptly disseminate research, they also open up new ways to participate in the scientific discourse around the latest research. There are many benefits to public feedback on preprints: comments that can help authors improve their work, broader opportunities for early career researchers to participate in review, and additional context for readers. However, we have not yet seen wide engagement in the public review of preprints. This is likely due to cultural barriers: there is a lack of incentives for researchers to participate in preprint review, but there can be risks associated with posting pointed critiques, however constructive, on the paper by another researcher whose favour you may require for a future job or grant.
If we are to foster a positive and thriving environment for public preprint feedback, we need to collectively agree on the norms and behaviors we expect when creating, responding to, and interpreting preprint feedback. This was the remit of the ASAPbio preprint review cultural norms Working Group, which has been developing a set of principles for preprint feedback over the last six months. Following the initial draft shared last July, the Working Group has iterated on the principles based on feedback and has discussed their potential use by different stakeholders in science communication.
We are pleased to now share the FAST principles for preprint feedback. This is a set of 14 principles clustered around four broad themes: Focused, Appropriate, Specific, and Transparent (FAST). Each principle includes a designation for the actors it applies to: authors, reviewers and the community.
To develop the principles, the Working Group reviewed existing resources on journal peer review, preprint review and public commenting on scholarly work and discussed how those align or differ with preprint feedback and the set of behaviors and cultural norms we would like to see as a community. While some principles should remain the same whether you are reviewing a manuscript for a journal or leaving a comment on a preprint, there are some particularities about preprints (open to everyone, not geared to a certain journal, etc) that require a specific set of principles. For example, (most) journal peer review is anonymous and reviewers are selected by a journal editor based on their expertise; preprint commenting, on the other hand, is open for everyone. In the context of preprint feedback, we could in principle promote a culture where we encourage signing the feedback if the commenter is comfortable doing so, and if they are not, recommend that they specify their area of expertise when commenting about certain aspects of a preprint. Importantly, we have also considered that in an environment of preprint feedback, there is a broader set of stakeholders who can interact and reply to preprint comments. As a result, there are also expectations for authors and readers to display a set of behaviours that enhance and promote a healthy, valuable and productive culture for public preprint feedback.
The FAST principles constitute a first attempt to generate cultural norms around preprint feedback. However, we do recognize that we are at early stages of preprint feedback activities and we expect (and hope) that these principles will constitute an initial framework for different stakeholders to use, incorporate and build on. For example, the FAST principles can be used by researchers when providing feedback in the context of institutional or cross-institutional journal clubs and similar initiatives. Moreover, preprint-review platforms could mark reviews as FAST-compliant and this could be particularly helpful for journals when considering whether to bring preprint reviews into their editorial process. There are additional potential uses for the FAST principles, and we are certain that there may be applications that we have not yet envisioned and which will arise as the ecosystem develops.
Here you can find more information about the FAST principles, including examples of preprint feedback statements that reflect each of the principles and the resources that the Working Group used. We would like to thank all those who contributed to the principles, including those who discussed them with us at the FeedbackASAP session and those who reviewed different iterations of the principles.
The FAST principles constitute a set of initial recommendations for the different actors that participate in scholarly communication so we can all agree on what are the best practices when providing preprint feedback. We encourage all stakeholders to incorporate the FAST principles into their existing routines and to provide feedback regarding the principles or issues that might arise with their implementation. Please comment on this post, on the preprint or send an email to Iratxe Puebla. Your feedback will help us adapt the FAST principles to continue to support a thriving preprint feedback culture.