by Rachel Lane PhD, RD
Originally published on LinkedIn on March 31, 2020
Many recent COVID-19-related news articles reference “preprints,” like this Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation report forecasting the impact of COVID-19 on each US state. But what are “preprints”? And can they be trusted?
I began advocating for preprinting platforms when I first discovered bioRxiv in grad school and haven't stopped. These platforms make scientific studies available – without a paywall – before they are published in academic journals.
Peer Review Can't Keep Up with COVID-19
Academic publishing includes a peer review process, where knowledgeable researchers review the work of peers to ensure scientific integrity, mitigate bias, and strengthen the caliber of the research. This process is lengthy – averaging ~14 weeks in some fields – but is a generally beneficial process.
According to WHO, the first case of COVID-19-related pneumonia was reported on December 31, 2019. That was 13 weeks ago. The responsible virus wasn't even named "COVID-19" until 7 weeks ago, and at that time, only 13 cases had been confirmed in the US.
Now, over 160,000 Americans and 800,000 individuals worldwide have confirmed COVID-19 infections. If the scientific community solely relied on traditional peer-reviewed journals or direct scientist-to-scientist interactions to disseminate information about this novel virus, our understanding of COVID-19 would be much more limited. That limitation would affect policy, which would undoubtedly cost lives. Preprinting platforms, like bioRxiv, are a key tool in the fight against COVID-19.
Review Preprinted Studies with Caution
However, as you read these studies – those on preprint servers and the news articles citing them – exercise caution and skepticism. And, in a few months when we’re hopefully a little closer to “normal,” follow-up on the article after it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
ResourcesInterested in exploring preprint platforms? Check out the following servers (linked directly to COVID-19 studies):