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Editorials

The perils of preprints

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3111 (Published 17 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3111

Rapid Response:

Time is ripe for “Good preprint practices”

Dear Editor,

We thank van Schalkwyk and colleagues for their important reflection on the perils of pre-prints (1). Their concerns, which echo those previously expressed by Glasziou and colleagues (2), are framed into a broader discussion on research integrity, i.e. the need for publishing platforms for standards to maintain scientific integrity, and the lack of internationally recognized standards that hinders formal scrutiny (1). We support the recommendation that “at a minimum, declarations of competing interests and funding sources should be mandatory, and platform administrators should have clear open protocols for dealing with industry funded research” (1). Furthermore, all platform websites should state, as does MedRxiv (3), that “Preprints are preliminary reports of work that have not been certified by peer review. They should not be relied on to guide clinical practice or health-related behavior and should not be reported in news media as established information”. The caveat should not be divorced from preprints when they circulate, thus this statement in prominent font should appear on the first page of each preprint, and each page should include a red watermark stating ‘Caution - Not Peer Reviewed’ (4).

Overinterpretation and misreporting of results by the authors are usually mitigated by peer-reviewers (5). The preprint philosophy is that errors will get fixed over time as the scientific community crowdsources and opines on the findings (6). But when the topic is of great public interest, preprints are disseminated through traditional and -particularly- social media: if unconfirmed but widely shared first-draft results later prove to be wrong or misinterpreted, it can be very difficult for people to “unlearn” what they thought was true (6). On a side note, the wording “preprint” in itself can be confused with “Epub ahead of print", i.e. the peer-reviewed article is being listed electronically before being typeset.

While preprints can help to make new evidence-based knowledge rapidly available to the scientific community, and to improve science’s transparency, we concur with van Schalkwyk and colleagues that benefits can be “undermined by harms caused by the release, dissemination, and misuse of unreliable evidence”; and that “is not a foregone conclusion that the potential benefits of preprints always outweigh the risks of harm”. Perhaps, and having in mind that there are standard “good practices” for most research and reporting activities (7), the time is ripe for the scientific community to agree on “Good Preprint Practices” -or “Good Prereview Practices”- guidelines.

References

1. May C I van Schalkwyk et al. The perils of preprints Their use and platforms require greater scrutiny. BMJ 2020;370:m3111
2. Glasziou PP, Sanders S, Hoffmann T. Waste in covid-19 research. BMJ 2020;369:m1847 doi: 10.1136/bmj.m1847
3. https://www.medrxiv.org/
4. Ravinetto R et al. Rapid Response: Re: Waste in covid-19 research and the use of pre-prints. BMJ 2020; https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m1847/rr-6
5. Ochodo EA et al. Overinterpretation and Misreporting of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies: Evidence of “Spin”. Radiology 2020; 267(2); https://doi.org/10.1148/radiol.12120527
6. Weiis R, Moreno J. Boosting the promise — and reining in the peril — of Covid-19 preprints. STAT, published on 28 July 2020. Cited 26 August 2020 from https://www.statnews.com/2020/07/28/boosting-promise-reining-in-peril-co...
7. https://www.equator-network.org/

Competing interests: No competing interests

28 August 2020
Raffaella Ravinetto
Senior researcher
Céline Caillet, MORU Tropical Health Network, Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, Oxford, United Kingdom, and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom. Jerome A. Singh, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. Aasim Ahmad. Bioethics group Aga Khan University & The Kidney Centre Post Graduate Training Institute Karachi, Pakistan. Philippe J Guerin, Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, Oxford, UK and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Laura Merson, Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, Oxford, UK and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Peter W. Horby. Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. Carlos E. Durán, Clinical Pharmacology Research Group, Department of Basic and Applied Medical Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. Ana Palmero, Ministry of Health and Center for the State and Society (CEDES), Argentina. Muhammad H. Zaman, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biomedical Engineering and International Health, Boston University, US. Emmanuel Bottieau, Department of Clinical Sciences, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium. Paul N Newton, MORU Tropical Health Network, Infectious Diseases Data Observatory, Oxford, UK and Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
Department of Public Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerpen, Belgium
Nationalestraat 155. 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium