The role of a preprint in the time of a pandemic

The Source
By: Scott Epstein, Fri Jan 22 2021
Scott Epstein

Author: Scott Epstein

If the past year has taught us anything, access—and speedy access—to high-quality research has never been more important. As the world has faced a global pandemic, the speed at which the virus took hold has almost been matched by the pace of publication; not just in traditional or open access journals, but also on preprint servers.

Preprint servers have been flooded with studies and, as Michele Avissar-Whiting, Editor-in-Chief of Research Square said in her latest interview with PRX, “This is why we’re seeing the impressive emergence of treatments and vaccines for the Covid-19 virus. It’s only by virtue of all that research being shared through preprints.” 

network_02 © Photo by Arif Wahid on Unsplash

Researchers can disseminate their results through preprints, quickly, which can subsequently play a role in informing policy, medical care, and as Michele outlines, ultimately in the current crisis, vaccine development. However, despite the speed and ease of access, checking the quality of the research can be hard. And sharing ‘poor science’ can cause harm, especially when it can immediately affect medical practice, for example. 

This is why a number of platforms, including In Review, operate under a rigorous process of submission checks, which include but are not limited to, checks relating to scope and original study, whether the findings may pose a risk to health, or if the article includes any claims that would require rigorous peer review before being made public.

With this in place, as a platform, during the COVID-pandemic we have been able to engage with some very interesting papers, and we would like to share with you below an example to illustrate how preprints, when supported correctly, can have a positive impact on research development and the growing conversation around the current pandemic.

Emerging SARS-CoV-2 mutation hot spots include a novel RNA-dependent-RNA polymerase variant

Investigating  particular  mutations in the SARS-Cov-2 genome and the effects those mutations might have on the disease it causes, the article is “Emerging SARS-CoV-2 mutation hot spots include a novel RNA-dependent-RNA polymerase variant” by Maria Pachetti, Bruna Marini, Francesca Benedetti, Fabiola Giudici, Elisabetta Mauro, Paola Storici, Claudio Masciovecchio, Silvia Angeletti, Massimo Ciccozzi, Robert C. Gallo, Davide Zella, and Rudy Ippodrino.

Recently, of course, public health authorities have identified new SARS-Cov-2 strains spreading—including the B.1.1.7 mutation spreading in the UK and that researchers theorize might be arising independently in other countries, and the 501.V2 variant in South Africa. An article like this identified possible genetic mutation sites in the viral genome as early as 10 months before these new variants began to spread. That the article appeared before these variants testifies to how evolution in publishing has accelerated research, and preprints are a part of that evolution. The Journal of Translational Medicine published the article’s version of record on April 22, 2020; but the authors took advantage of the fact that the journal participates in In Review, and posted the manuscript as a preprint on April 6, 2020. 

Even though the journal completed peer review in just over three weeks, due to the article’s exposure on the preprint platform, in those intervening three weeks, the preprint earned six citations and an Altmetric score of 56; along with over 14,000 downloads since posting. According to Digital Science’s Dimensions data, this paper had the third highest Altmetric score among infectious disease preprints eventually published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

This is just one example of the much larger body of work that has been posted to preprints across the past 18 months and have supported the wider research conversations around central issues.

Over the next few weeks we will also be exploring how preprint servers are supporting a wider engagement, and impact on topics such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

You can listen to Michele Avissar-Whiting’s interview on your with Al Letson on the Reveal podcast here. And you can learn more about In Review at

Scott Epstein

Author: Scott Epstein

Before moving to Author Experience and Services, Scott Epstein marketed journals and books across all of Springer Nature, including Springer’s materials science and physics books and journals, and BMC and SpringerOpen’s largest math and materials science journals.  

Related Tags: