Preprints in the biological, medical and health sciences: some questions answered.

The open research movement is about disseminating scientific outputs widely and openly as soon as possible. One of the ways that researchers can rapidly share their work with a wide audience is by posting a preprint to a preprint server. The practice of sharing and commenting on preprints has recently been described as ‘science in real time1

What is a preprint?
Why post preprints online?
Before you post your preprint, what should you consider?
Where can I post preprints?
Where are preprints indexed?
How do I find out about preprints?
Can SGUL researchers record and deposit preprints in CRIS/SORA/SGUL Data Repository?
The future of preprints
Queries about preprints or open research?
References

What is a preprint?

The preprint is the original version of your work, before peer review and before acceptance by a journal.

Why post preprints online?

  • Publishing your research as a preprint means that you can get your work out fast. From 2021, the Wellcome Trust2 will require that any research they fund that is relevant to a public health emergency be published as a preprint, in order to disseminate findings on such important areas as quickly as possible3,4.
  • Your work will be citeable and shareable as soon as it’s posted, allowing you to demonstrate the work you’re doing to funders, colleagues and potential collaborators.
  • Immediate feedback from your peers can help you improve your manuscript, as well as opening up potential avenues for follow up work or collaborations.
  • By publishing your findings as a preprint, you can publically establish priority by date stamping your findings and making your preprint part of the scientific record.
  • Preprint servers (examples below) allow for disseminating hard-to-publish but important work such as negative/null findings.
  • In fields where posting preprints to preprint servers is commonplace, these can become a one stop shop for getting a quick overview of the newest developments in the field – a piece in Nature5 highlights how biorXiv can be used to help researchers stay abreast of what their colleagues are working on.

Before you post your preprint, what should you consider?

If you are posting as a step prior to publishing in a journal, check whether your prospective journal has any rules around preprints – do they consider posting preprints as ‘prior publication’?

What’s the best platform for what you want to achieve? If you want feedback on your paper from a specific group before going more public, you could share it on St George’s data repository via a closed group or a private link.

Are there charges for posting? Where there are charges, these tend to be much less than open access fees in more established journals, however you will still need to consider how these are paid.

Where can I post preprints?

bioRxiv.org is a preprint server for the biological sciences. Many journals allow you to submit work that has been previously published as a preprint, and preprints posted to bioRxiv can also be directly transferred for submission to a variety of other peer review services (eg Plos, BMC). An analysis6 earlier this year of biorXiv preprints found that “two-thirds of preprints posted before 2017 were later published in peer-reviewed journals”.

medRxiv is a preprint server using the same software as bioRxiv, and papers on health sciences topics can be posted there.

BioMed Central have recently launched a new prepublication option, In Review, for articles under consideration in four of their journals: BMC Anesthesiology, BMC Neurology, BMC Ophthalmology and Trials.

F1000 Research, Wellcome Open Research and the new AMRC Open Research operate under a slightly different model: preprints posted to these sites are then openly peer reviewed, and the article is considered published once it has passed peer review. 

All these sites screen contributions for plagiarism and appropriateness, and to ensure they meet ethical standards.

Where are preprints indexed?

bioRxiv and medRxiv preprints are indexed by Google, Google Scholar, CrossRef and other search tools. They are not indexed by Web of Science, however they will be indexed in EPMC as follows:

“To distinguish preprints from peer reviewed articles in Europe PMC, each preprint is given a PPR ID, and is clearly labelled as a preprint, both on the abstract view and the search results… When preprints have subsequently been published as peer-reviewed articles and indexed in Europe PMC they are crosslinked to each other.”

Preprints are not indexed in PubMed until they have achieved sufficient peer review.

How do I find out about preprints?

Preprint platforms have options to set up alerts for subject categories, recent additions and to track papers when they are revised.

Rxivist combines preprints from bioRxiv with data from Twitter to help find the papers being discussed in a particular field, to help researchers deal with the “avalanche” of research7 they may be faced with. 

I’m a SGUL researcher, can I record and deposit my preprints in SGUL’s CRIS (Current Research Information System), St George’s Research Data Repository or publications repository, SORA (St George’s Online Research Archive)?

Records for preprints can come into your CRIS profile from CrossREF & EPMC. This is useful as it adds to the completeness of your publication list in CRIS.

As and when a paper from biorXiv or medrXiv goes onto to be published in a journal, then we’d expect to see a record for this in CRIS too.

For the purposes of making full text available via SORA, we have historically only made those versions of an article post peer review (either the final accepted MS or publisher version where possible) publically available.

For REF 2021, while preprints will be eligible for submission8, only outputs which have been ‘accepted for publication’ (such as a journal article or conference contribution with an ISSN) are within the scope of the REF 2021 open access policy. SGUL researchers should continue to follow the deposit on acceptance advice and upload the accepted version of their papers to CRIS for SORA.

The future of preprints

While there has been debate on the pros and cons of preprints in terms of whether research disseminated in this way will advance healthcare for patients9, improvements to preprint platforms (such as medRxiv’s cautionary advice to news media on their homepage) and backing by funders should mean that as a tool for researchers to quickly share & find preliminary findings, preprints will be around for the foreseeable future.

As funder mandates and preprint practices develop in the medical and health sciences, we will keep our system capabilities for capturing and promoting researchers’ preprints under active review.

Queries about preprints or open research?

Contact us

CRIS & Deposit on acceptance: sora@sgul.ac.uk

Open Access Publications: openaccess@sgul.ac.uk

Research Data Management: researchdata@sgul.ac.uk

We look forward to hearing from you.

Michelle Harricharan, Research Data Support Manager
Jenni Hughes, Research Publications Assistant
Jennifer Smith, Research Publications Librarian

Look out for a Library blog post on open peer review during Peer Review Week which is taking place September 16-20 2019.

If you are interested receiving updates from the Library on all things open access, open data and scholarly research communications, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from us.

References

1. Knowledge Exchange. Preprints: Science in real time [Internet]. Bristol: Knowledge Exchange; 2018 [cited 2019 Aug 7]. Available from: http://www.knowledge-exchange.info/event/preprints.

See also the slide deck:

Chiarelli, A; Johnson, R; Pinfield, S; Richens, E. Practices, drivers and impediments in the use of preprints: Phase 1 report [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 8]. Available from: http://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.2654832

2. Wellcome Trust. Open Access Policy 2021 [Internet]. London: Wellcome; 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 8]. Available from: https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wellcome-open-access-policy-2021.pdf

3. Peiperl L. Preprints in medical research: Progress and principles. PLoS Med [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2019 Aug 8];15(4):e1002563. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002563

4. Johansson MA, Reich NG, Meyers LA, Lipsitch M. Preprints: An underutilized mechanism to accelerate outbreak science. PLoS Med [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2019 Aug 8];15(4):e1002549. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002549

5. Learn, JR. What bioRxiv’s first 30,000 preprints reveal about biologists [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 8]. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00199-6

6. Abdill, RJ, Blekhman, R. Tracking the popularity and outcomes of all bioRxiv preprints. bioRxiv [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 7];515643. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1101/515643

7. Abdill, RJ; Blekhman R. Rxivist.org: Sorting biology preprints using social media and readership metrics. PLOS Biol [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 8];17(5):e3000269. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000269

8. REF 2021. Guidance on submissions (2019/01) Section 238. [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 7]. Available from: https://www.ref.ac.uk/publications/guidance-on-submissions-201901/

9. Krumholz HM, Ross JS, Otto CM. Will research preprints improve healthcare for patients? BMJ [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2019 Aug 8];362:k3628. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3628

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