How preprints accelerated science communication during the pandemic

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In the early stages of the pandemic, approximately 40% of COVID-19 literature was shared as preprints – freely available manuscripts that were shared by peers prior to peer review. In a new study published in the open access journal PLOS Biology, researchers led by Dr. Jonathon Coates (Queen Mary University of London), Dr. Nicholas Fraser (Leibniz Information Center for Economics, Germany) and Dr. Liam Brierley (University of Liverpool) on The crucial role of preprint servers in hosting COVID-19 related science and how these preprints have been used to disseminate knowledge about COVID-19 has led to cultural changes in journalistic and political practices.

There was a quick and incredible scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with research being shared less than a month after the first reported case and vaccines being developed in less than a year. The researchers note that this has been achieved through a remarkable change in the way research is accessed and communicated. Preprints describing COVID-19 research are being downloaded and accessed at unprecedented levels (up to ten times more than research unrelated to the pandemic) and are being used extensively for the first time by reporters and policymakers.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Jonathon Coates, “The pandemic has shed light on the advantages of preprints over more traditional publications, and it was clear early on in the pandemic that something was happening to the use of preprints.”

When the researchers looked at how preprints were shared, they found that COVID-19 preprints were shared on online platforms such as Twitter at a rate that was more than seven times that of non-COVID-19 preprints. Though traditionally rarely referenced or reported by journalists in official policy documents, preprints describing COVID-19 research are often cited and reported in the news media, encouraging active research to both policymakers and the public Brought closer to the public than ever before.

“Prominent officials like Dr. Fauci have stated that preprints were important in accelerating our understanding of COVID-19. Our data provides evidence for these statements and shows a marked cultural shift in the use of preprints by scientists, the general public, Journalists and policy makers, “says Dr. Coates, “We hope that the cultural changes reported in this paper will persist after the pandemic and that the biomedical community will continue to turn to preprint servers to disseminate new studies.”


Research article

Peer review; Observational study; methodology

Use these URLs in your reporting to get access to the freely available articles in PLOS Biology:

Quote: Fraser N., Brierley L., Dey G., Polka JK, Pálfy M., Nanni F. et al. (2021) The evolving role of preprints in the spread of COVID-19 research and its impact on the science communications landscape. PLoS Biol 19 (4): e3000959.

Financing: NF confirms the financing by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, approval numbers 01PU17005B (OASE) and 01PU17011D (QuaMedFo). The LB confirms the financing through a prize of the Skills Development Fellowship of the Medical Research Council with the grant number MR / T027355 / 1. The donors had no role in the design of the study, the data acquisition and analysis, the decision to publish or the creation of the Manuscripts.

Competing Interests: I have read the guidelines for the journal, and the authors of this manuscript have the following competing interests: JP is the executive director of ASAPbio, a nonprofit that promotes the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. GD is a bioRxiv partner, part of a voluntary group of scientists who check preprints stored on the bioRxiv server. MP is the community manager for preLights, a non-profit preprint highlighting service. GD and JAC contribute to PreLights and ASAPBio fellows.

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