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WCRI 2019: Preprints and their place in the publishing ethics landscape

WCRI session on preprints and their place in the publishing ethics landscape 

While preprints have existed in some disciplines for decades, preprints and preprint platforms are becoming more and more common across the entire landscape of publishing. The total output from preprints remains low in comparison to published journal articles, however, preprints are growing rapidly across many disciplines. Preprints also offer some interesting questions and potential concerns on the ethics front, particularly in the health and medical fields where it is unclear whether open discussions on early research are beneficial toward improving the work, or whether there is potential harm in publishing unvetted and non-peer-reviewed findings.

In this Monday afternoon session at WCRI, Chris Graf (COPE and Wiley) led a panel to discuss the intricacies of preprints and the relevant ethical issues. John Inglis (bioRxiv and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press) spoke first and gave a history and background of preprints. Heather Tierney (COPE and American Chemical Society) introduced the COPE discussion document on preprints and shared COPE’s recommendations for authors, journals, publisher, and preprint platforms. Then the meat of the session began with a debate, with Debbie Sweet (Cell Press, Elsevier) providing a pro-preprint argument about the benefits of quick and timely dissemination of research. The anti-preprint argument was presented by Howard Browman (COPE and Austevoll Research Station), including the potential harm of non-peer-reviewed work being accepted as fact.

Following the presentations there was a lively discussion with the panel and the audience, spanning the range of views on preprint ethics. Press coverage of preprints was discussed in the context of reporters needing to understand when content has not been peer reviewed. COPE guidance suggests that transparency is key for all parties involved in preprint publication, with preprint platforms making it clear when their content is not peer-reviewed. Examples were also shared about where preprint posting has led to rapid discussion and dissemination of important topics. COPE will be posting a revised preprint discussion document later this year, which will discuss many of the issues raised during this session and other related sessions in which COPE has participated.

COPE Council Member, Heather Tierney