Electronic preprints can be categorisedBMJ 1999; 318 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7175.55a (Published 02 January 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:55
EDITOR—McConnell and Horton have put a critical issue on trial: the role of scientific journals in the age of the internet.1 Posting protocols, results, and preliminary “publications” on an individual or institutional website allows for intellectual discussion and a healthy exchange among coworkers internationally. Working by fax or email does not allow for the same level of flexibility or impact. Penalising authors for this practice by not considering for print the articles that have been posted on private websites stands in the way of true scientific progress in this era of internet democracy. On the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with Kassirer and Angell that the indiscriminate distribution of non-peer reviewed articles could have a harmful impact.2People, be they doctors or the lay public, have a tendency to believe what they see in print, especially if they happen to see it on the website of a reputable scientific journal like the BMJ, Lancet, or New England Journal of Medicine. The reputation of both the journal and the internet could be damaged.
To resolve this unfortunate but inevitable dichotomy, I propose we classify electronic preprints—“eprints”—into four categories:
The electronic draft (e-draft), material posted at an individual or institutional website that is used for collaborative purposes within the medical community but not for public consumption;
The electronic preprint (e-preprint), completed journal articles that have been peer reviewed, accepted, corrected, and are awaiting publication in hard copy. This material could be put on the journal's website for everybody's consumption and comment;
The electronic letter (e-letter), electronic correspondence that can be posted almost immediately on receipt. This keeps the discussion current, topical, and vibrant; and
The electronic print (e-print), the electronic version of the printed article, which would be located within the appropriate electronic journal (e-journal) with its volume and page numbers.
Far from seeing the imminent death of biomedical journals,3 I perceive an ever increasing role for them as the last bastion of properly filtered (peer reviewed) information. In a world where anyone can post any material on the information superhighway, practising clinicians and researchers alike need an oasis where they know there is “somebody to select, filter, and purify research material and present them with a cool glass of clean water.”4