Preprints and working papers have been posted and shared for many years. They report research results that have not undergone peer review, although in many cases the authors also submit to a journal (before, after or at the same time as making a preprint available). In the past 5 years, the number of preprint servers and preprints has expanded and new disciplines, notably biology and life sciences, have seen rapid growth in the number of preprints. Preprints appear in a number of contexts, including dedicated preprint servers (of which arXiv is by far the largest), social media and networking sites (e.g. Researchgate), and institutional repositories. Standards, pre-online checks and policies vary between platforms and there are currently no established standards, although ASAPbio (http://asapbio.org) will convene a meeting in July in which the establishment of standards will be among the issues discussed.
To date there have been few public discussions around the ethics of making unverified research available in this way and there are a number of issues that arise. Not all ethical issues around preprints have a link with journal articles and COPE may wish to consider ‘mission creep’ and whether all aspects of preprints ethics fall within its remit.
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