EASE Council Post: Bahar Mehmani on PrePrints

As a new series on our Blog we will be featuring regular posts from EASE Council Members, to share insights into the work our Council are doing both with EASE and in their professional work. These posts are intended to help our members and the wider community get to know our Council a little better and showcase our collective achievements.

In this post, Bahar Mehmani revisits her session from our Virtual Conference, introducing preprints, the backgrounds of the speakers involved in the session and an account of what happened on the day.

Rapid dissemination of research outside traditional journal publishing happened perhaps for the first time in 1961 when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to circulate biological preprints in a forgotten experiment called the Information Exchange Groups (IEGs). This system eventually attracted over 3,600 participants and saw the production of over 2,500 different documents, but by 1967, it was effectively shut down following the refusal of journals to accept articles that had been circulated as preprints.

Slide from EASE Virtual Conference Presentation, illustrating the history of preprints

Physicists rejuvenated this idea in the 90s by building the first preprint server named arXiv. Their average number of monthly submissions in 2019 was13000 submissions/month. Since then many communities in the US and Europe started similar self-repository services.

However, never in the history of preprints have we experienced such an active and organized way of disseminating the research on a topic than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Util Mid-May more than 10,000 academic works have been published about Covid-19 since January alone, 3,500 of them preprints. By comparison, only 29 studies were published before the 2003 SARS pandemic ended.

During this panel discussion we explored explore

  • How the content is growing on preprint services and journals, particularly for COVID-19 related studies
  • How journal policies regarding preprints and independent peer reviews are evolving
  • How research academics find articles in preprints and how they discuss them outside journals
  • How public discusses preprints
  • How diverse and inclusive are these discussions

    The panellists were:

    Bianca Kramer, a librarian for life sciences and medicine at Utrecht University Library, with a strong focus on scholarly communication and Open Science. She researches and leads workshops on various aspects of scholarly communication (e.g. preprints, peer review and altmetrics) for researchers, students and other stakeholders in scholarly communication, and has an active interest in data- and network visualization. She is on the board of FORCE11.

    Janne Seppänen, the founder and managing director of Peerage of Science;Team Lead in research support at the Open Science Centre, University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

    Jessica Polka, Executive Director of ASAPbio, a US-based nonprofit working to promote transparency in life science communication. Jessica is also a P-lan S Ambassador, an affiliate of the Knowledge Futures Group, and a steering committee member of Rescuing Biomedical Research.

    Mario Malicki from Meta Research Innovation Center at Stanford. Mario has a PhD in Medical Ethics and is the co-editor in chief of Research Integrity and Peer Review Journal. Mario’s research focus is running meta-research of preprints.

    Monica Granados, a Leadership team member of PREreview; Monica is also Policy Analyst at Environment and Climate Change Canada on open science.

    We started the discussion with Bianca taking us through the weekly growth of COVID-19 preprint papers showing how different preprint servers are covering the topic, with MedArxiv and SSRN standing on the first and the second rank. She also showed how researchers find the most suitable preprint server for their papers and how preprint articles show up in search results.

    Jessica Polka presented her recent study of comparing COVID-19 related preprint papers with non-COVID-19 ones. Showing how they are different in terms of length, number of data points and descriptions.

    Monica talked about OASPA’s call for reviewers an Bianca described how funders and research institutions are motivating researchers to share their COVID-19 related studies on preprints and repository services.

    Then we talked about the quality control mechanism on preprints where Mario presented the outcome of his meta-research on preprints guidelines for authors and Monica presented independent peer review service PREreview. Janne also presented project TRiP and another independent peer review service, Peerage of Science.

    We also discussed how research is being evaluated/discussed on social media and how journalists evaluate and control the validity of preprint articles.

    This and much more is captured in the recorded session of our panel here.

    You can also find the slides here.

    Dr. Bahar Mehmani
    Reviewer Experience Lead, Elsevier