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Preprint servers and the publishers embracing open peer review

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At the annual meeting of ISMPP this year, the way that publishers engage with preprints was identified as a key trend for the future of medical communications. In their article for the Scholarly Kitchen, Roger Schonfeld and Oya Rieger discuss this subject in more detail, drawing on a recent publication on developments in this area for Ithaka S+R.

Preprints are viewed by many as the path towards a more efficient and accelerated publishing machinery. It is now observed that not only are publishers increasingly willing to engage with preprint servers, they are also establishing integrated preprint platforms into their manuscript submission workflows.

An interesting new dimension of journal-integrated preprint sharing is the function to link the preprint with its publication status. For example, Springer Nature’s In Review service allows the progress of a manuscript to be tracked through per review, after being shared on the preprint server Research Square. If the manuscript is not accepted for publication, the preprint remains on the platform but is disassociated from Springer Nature and the submission process. While if accepted, a link from the preprint to the published article is included.

Wiley journals are offering a similar preprint service (Wiley Under Review) that enables authors to deposit and track their manuscript on the Authorea preprint server in parallel to the journal editorial review process. This service was introduced at the start of the year as a pilot and is now being expanded to 37 journals with a focus on expediting the dissemination of pandemic research.

As part of its move into preprints, Elsevier has acquired the SSRN eLibrary and developed the SSRN-compatible First Look service, which enables journals to create a branded space for preprints on SSRN. Taylor & Francis has taken the preprint process one step further with its acquisition of F1000 Research, in which a preprint is ‘published’ and then subject to open peer review and ‘post-publication’ author revision.

Challenges to this cross-platform integration include the requirement for interoperability, whereby the publisher’s submission platform(s) needs to be compatible with the preprint system. This also raises interesting ethical questions when either submission platforms or preprint servers have investment from competing publishing houses. A case in point is the Elsevier purchase of the Aries submission platform that is utilised by Springer Nature. Encouragingly, Aries now supports deposition of manuscripts via the Springer Nature Research Square functionality, showing that cross-publisher interoperability is possible.

While there is much enthusiasm for the potential of preprints to expedite research findings into the public domain and to level the financial playing field of scholarly research, some have raised concerns about potential harm in the sphere of biomedical publishing. Concerns cited include lack of identifying/tracking metadata, or indeed the implications of assigning digital object identifiers (DOIs) to preprints, the publication of unvetted claims and the need to emphasise the preliminary nature of preprints so that they are not reported by news media as established information. The introduction of a more rigorous code of practice may be a prudent next step for the preprint revolution.


Summary by Julianna Solomons PhD, CMPP from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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