Preprint servers such as bioRχiv and medRχiv are becoming increasingly popular amongst researchers looking to freely and quickly share their work. The virtue of preprint severs in enabling rapid dissemination and discussion of cutting-edge science has never been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are potential concerns surrounding the level of scientific rigour upheld in preprints, a recent study has shown that reporting quality in preprints is similar to that in peer reviewed articles.
A multinational author group led by Clarissa Carneiro looked at 76 preprints (from bioRχiv) and 76 peer reviewed publications (indexed on PubMed) from 2016. The authors used a checklist of objective criteria (based on existing reporting guidelines including CONSORT and STROBE) to obtain an overall score of the quality of reporting within the articles. They checked whether the articles appropriately reported basic methodological details like study eligibility criteria, statistical methods used, and whether conflict of interest and funding statements were included. The study also compared a sample of preprints with their corresponding peer reviewed versions.
The authors found that peer reviewed articles scored more highly than the preprints, but the difference was small at ~5%, suggesting comparable reporting quality.
When the authors compared preprints to their final peer reviewed versions, the single largest difference was the addition of conflict of interest information, which could be attributed to the editorial process overall as opposed to peer review specifically. Nonetheless, the authors found evidence that peer review helps select papers with better reporting for publication, scoring preprints that were later published in peer reviewed journals more highly than those not formally published.
The authors conclude that their results “seem to support the validity of preprints as scientific contributions as a way to make science communication more agile, open and accessible”.
However, the authors also suggest there is scope for peer review to have a greater impact on reporting quality.