Given the relative youth of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s virtually impossible to report on the coronavirus-caused disease and not come across a preprint.
These early versions of scientific studies and research papers are published on designated preprint servers (primarily bioRxiv and medRxiv) before the research findings have been peer-reviewed and published in a medical journal. Preprint servers do offer a basic level of review before the papers are hosted, but the service offers the larger scientific community an opportunity to see new research, ask questions and possibly point out some issues. This process provides authors with some additional feedback before proceeding to a peer-reviewed publication, as we noted in an earlier blog post.
The dizzying pace of research papers generated by this pandemic probably has led to as much journalistic coverage of preprints as of peer-reviewed studies. Though preprints aren’t new, never have they been so central to the news cycle and the public’s thirst for data about the coronavirus.
So, what do journalists need to know about preprints and how to cover them responsibly? Why do they exist? Are they necessarily that different from traditional peer-reviewed papers? Is covering them any different? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Why did it take so long for medical and life science preprints to exist when other sciences have had them for decades?
Join AHCJ’s panel of experts for a webcast on the topic at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 30. Scheduled panelists are:
- Ivan Oransky, M.D., president of AHCJ, co-founder of Retraction Watch, vice president of editorial at Medscape, and a professor at New York University’s Arthur Carter Journalism Institute; @ivanoransky
- Angela Rasmussen, Ph.D., an associate research scientist in virology at Columbia University School of Public Health; @angie_rasmussen
- John Inglis, Ph.D., executive director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press and co-founder and manager of bioRxiv and medRxiv; @JohnRInglis
The webinar will include a Q&A session and be recorded for AHCJ members. In the meantime, here is a reading list about preprints and research papers in general during the pandemic:
- AHCJ: Beware the preprint in covering coronavirus research
- Wired: The science of this pandemic Is moving at dangerous speeds
- WNYC On the Media: Science communications In the time of coronavirus
- New York Times: Coronavirus tests science’s need for speed limits
- STAT: Quick retraction of a faulty coronavirus paper was a good moment for science
- Journalist’s Resource: Covering biomedical research preprints amid the coronavirus: 6 things to know
- org: Strong caveats are lacking as news stories trumpet preliminary COVID-19 research
- USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism: Coronavirus Files: Immunity, conspiracy theories and the road ahead