28

From what I understand pre-prints have been common in some fields for many years because of some practical obvious reasons, for example very long lag time from submission to publication.

However, it is clear that publishing in pre-prints is becoming more and more popular across many fields with the main reason of calling yourself first to a particular research/method/idea/etc. The only problem is that these pre-prints are not peer-reviewed, and even though they require a certain standard, which is quite low, nobody is really checking the credibility and soundness of any of it. People might rush through the scientific process to publish a pre-print because the scrutiny level is almost non-existent. Some of this has been already observed with pre-prints about COVID https://science.slashdot.org/story/21/02/13/1558235/misleading-viral-claims-show-dangers-of-preprint-servers-researchers-warn, I think there's even no verification on affiliations.

The more pre-print papers are being published, the more these papers are being cited in peer-reviewed papers. They might be correct but nobody might check in detail as a reviewer or could even content since it's not "published". In addition, usually citations such as "in preparation" or "submitted" are not accepted by many journals. It just seems that this could trigger a vicious cycle in which more non-peer reviewed papers are being cited in permanent publications which then remains in print for years to come.

Does the rise of pre-prints make science and publishing less credible? Does it increase the pressure to publish because it adds an additional tier to the publishing process?

12
  • 13
    I think the logical mistake in this post is that you think preprints are replacing peer review, which they are not. Feb 14 at 17:41
  • 30
    Frankly, I do not buy this. I posit that one of the most damaging studies in recent years is this infamous retracted study that linked measles vaccines (more precisely MMR) and autism. It was published in a very high-tier peer-reviewed journal. It may have created enormous but difficult-to-quantify damage to the cause of vaccines. Peer review is not a magic bullet. It has the job of keeping obvious nonsense or shoddy craftsmanship out of journals. But it is more often than not reduced to gatekeeping and typically works best for solid work not far from the mainstream with moderate originality. Feb 14 at 19:45
  • 7
    @CaptainEmacs "works best for solid work not far from the mainstream with moderate originality", that's a really nice way of describing it. Feb 15 at 8:08
  • 7
    A preprint is a publication. You put it somewhere where people can read it: that's literally the definition of publication. Preprints have not been rigorously peer-reviewed, but that's another issue.
    – Tom
    Feb 15 at 22:15
  • 4
    "I think there's even no verification on affiliations" > as discussed here, most publishers do not generally ask for verification of affiliations, so this isn't really a preprint-specific issue.
    – Andrew
    Feb 16 at 11:42
46

The people churning out garbage preprints are also churning out garbage papers in predatory journals which are "peer reviewed".

The preprints aren't why these people are doing it. Being shit scientists driven by perverse incentives is why they're doing it.

Also I cite preprints all the time from people I know (either directly or by reputation) and it's not a problem because I don't need reviewers to tell me if a paper is good. I can read.

1
  • 3
    I removed the reference to specific possibly predatory publishers: there's no need to single out any of them, especially if there are borderline cases. Everyone please keep a civil and professional tone in the discussions respecting the Code of Conduct.
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Feb 16 at 18:46
37

Does the rise of pre-prints make science and publishing less credible?

No. Peer reviewed publications are still peer reviewed. People who do not know the difference between a preprint and a peer reviewed publication are not in a position to judge the credibility of science.

Does it increase the pressure to publish because it adds an additional tier to the publishing process?

No. "Pressure to publish" is about competition for jobs and funding. The number of publication options is not relevant.

14
  • 3
    'People who do not know the difference between a preprint and a peer reviewed publication are not in a position to judge the credibility of science.' Hmmm. I learned that there's such a thing as peer review of a manuscript, the basic mechanics of how it works, and what it's supposed to achieve, in the summer vacation job I had between my second and third years as an undergraduate. I do occasionally wonder how, when, and even whether my undergraduate peers who didn't have that particular summer vacation job learned that information... Feb 14 at 18:53
  • 1
    @DanielHatton It should be included in any competent science general education. Also, it is widely mentioned in the more competent news media. Feb 14 at 19:55
  • 18
    " People who do not know the difference between a preprint and a peer reviewed publication are not in a position to judge the credibility of science." So? Plenty of people will judge the credibility of science, with significant, material consequences to scientific activity, whether you (or even, all scientists) deem them worthy to do so.
    – Hasse1987
    Feb 15 at 2:33
  • 3
    @AnonymousPhysicist: Maybe I'm missing something, but if I understood Hasse1987 correctly, they were referring to people who'd take their knowledge about scientific discoveries from general news media - which, incidentally, regularly present "new discoveries" described in recently published ... not-yet-peer-reviewed preprints. Feb 15 at 20:37
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper That's more an issue of news media credibility than preprints. The news media works off press releases, or if they are better funded, then interviews. They do not read preprints or journal articles. Feb 15 at 22:13
8

I agree with the gist of the other answers, which by and large refute the major concerns postulated in the question (though I can see where those concerns are coming from).

I would add a major benefit coming from the increased prevalence of preprints, that of accelerating the open speedy dissemination of important research results.

I'm old enough to remember when arXiv (the former LANL archive) became more broadly used than in physics. In particular, over my very limited time as a research mathematician, it went from used rarely in (pure) mathematics, by next-generation scholars in physics-adjacent fields, to much broader but not universal applicability. As it hopped from one subfield to the next, it much expanded the speed at which new results were disseminated.

Prior, if you were well-connected in a field, you might hear gossip that so-and-so had achieved such-and-such, and very exceptionally you might receive a pre-publication fragment, which might be anything from a completed draft paper submitted, to a 3rd party's cryptic notes from a talk somewhere. There was generally a caution about over-sharing, to avoid being scooped as well as just for arcane cultural reasons. That also meant there was little incentive, in fact disincentive, to rush the word out about one's own achievements, other than to frankly claim turf. What was shared flowed really only to those well-connected (friend of a friend stuff), and there was no version control: "unpublished results" might float around in various contradictory incomplete versions and it was very hard to know what was accurate and complete.

While in that environment, preprints did technically exist, they were not as prominent part of academic discourse. arXiv and other centralized servers, clearinghouses, etc. played a huge role in encouraging early sharing of results. Rather than scooping, they provided a way to "postmark" your achievements earlier in a long publishing timeline. They allowed a much wider range of scholars to be aware, read, learn, and build on recent research. And via centralized repositories, they provided version control.

Of course, a "preprint infrastructure" like this did not and does not have all the elements of a full peer-reviewed publication pipeline, and is not a substitute. But it is an important, positive complement. Any effect in the direction of "decreasing quality" or "increasing pressure to publish" (as mentioned in the question) must also be complemented with considering the increase in quality (from more eyes, sooner, on important results), decreased pressure to rush out a poorly written paper (the preprint already announces it, so can take time to write "the paper" propertly), and faster and broader research collaboration.

6

Peer review has never been a 100% reliable gatekeeper and plenty of incorrect results get published anyway. I am sure every scientist is aware of X result that was later shown to be incorrect. Example from The Lancet on Covid.

Science gets bad PR when it turns out to be incorrect. Since peer reviewed articles can also be incorrect, I doubt that the rise of preprints is having much impact. If someone is going to disbelieve science as a whole based on incorrect results, they are probably not going to distinguish between whether the science has been peer reviewed or not.

3

No, some kind of concept of preprint has existed for a long time and has never devalued the concept of publishing research findings in research journals. Preprints are what they are. Perelman published his proof of the Poincaré conjecture in a set of three preprints. OK, exceptional example, but obviously this is not clear-cut.

It would be like asking ''Are journal articles causing X?' or something like that.

For example, Gödel originally wrote up his incompleteness theorems which we are all now familiar with and sent them to John von Neumann in the form of a preprint prior to publication of his findings in a journal. It's not a big deal, I think people are just overthinking it. I read preprints all the time and find a lot of them very useful and interesting. Some of them are bad, but some journal articles are bad as well.

As another example from pure mathematics, Bhatt and Scholze uploaded a preprint in 2019 which has not yet been accepted for publication due to the length and complexity of the document, but which has received 64 citations.

1

Absolutely! It definitely creates an incentive to rush out papers.

I worked in between applied math and engineering and I have noticed a trend in applied engineering journals in recent decade that these research papers will assume some abstract framework and do a bunch of math derivations and prove some type of convergence results in said abstract framework.

At the end, everyone is left just wondering if there exists a single scenario in the universe that can fall into their framework. Eventually one will be found, in a couple of years, usually not by these authors, but then they get to claim priority because they worked out the theory first, and then they say "oh your example just happens to fall into our abstract framework!"

It used to be, at least in my field, that demonstrating the applicability/usefulness was a priority. And it is usually very hard to show how math can be applied. Now it is about who can churn out proofs more in more and more esoteric setup. While this can be hard, I have noticed that they tend to be excruciatingly incremental.

Of course, you wouldn't expect these papers to go through the review process, so here is what they do: team up with a big name. I suspect these "big names" have never even read the paper they purport to have wrote (given I personally know that many are not even an expert in the subject they are writing in), but as long as their name is on there, no matter how marginal the work is, it will be heavily cited.

1
  • 5
    This seems to have nothing to do with preprints.
    – mmeent
    Feb 17 at 0:29
1

Preprints serve a very important issue of science, fast dissemination of results.

Peer reviews never guaranteed the correctness of the results. Preprints also never say anything about the correctness. But traditional peer review is slow and sometimes have preconceptions about the research.

First of all, slowness of peer review. Sometimes, your research is good if you are one the first in that area. For example, you applied an algorithm to a domain first time. preprint helps a lot in this case.

This preconceptions about the research is also very important. I put a lot of effort to a review article in my PhD thesis. It was rejected 3 times from different journals. After 3 rejections, I talked with my advisor and put my review article as preprint. After this preprint, it was again reject 3 more times and I decided to not submit it anymore. Well, it is cited 107 times in google scholar as of 2021 February. Most of the citing articles are from journals with impact factor.

A review of KDD99 dataset usage in intrusion detection and machine learning between 2010 and 2015 Authors Atilla Özgür, Hamit Erdem Publication date 2016/4/14 Journal PeerJ PrePrints

This means that:

  1. You should never accept that article results are fully true even it is published in a very good journal.
  2. Also, you should never accept that preprint results are fully true too.

My conclusion: preprints are not lowering the quality and credibility of the researchers. It is actually increasing it.

1
  • Actually it needs to be emphasised just how slow peer review can be. Depending on the journal, the peer review process can be excruciatingly slow.
    – Tom
    Feb 19 at 21:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.