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Editorial Snapshot: Preprints slow to attract readers during the COVID-19 pandemic

- G.A., Senior Editor

As we previously reported in our February 2021 Editorial Snapshot, efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have included the encouragement of researchers to share their work prior to publication by making preprints available online.

Historically, many publishers discouraged or even forbid authors from releasing preprints of their work before submitting to a journal for peer review. However, the importance of rapidly developing effective treatments and safe vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many journals and publishers to proactively encourage authors to share their findings prior to publication.

To determine the impact of this encouragement and the related changes in policies at journals, Springer Nature conducted a survey on 1400 users of ResearchGate regarding their use of preprints and their preferences regarding the type of material they prefer to read. In a white paper that presents the results of this survey, Springer Nature notes that researchers overwhelmingly prefer to read and cite published manuscripts. Respondents appreciated the swift availability of preprints, but noted that peer reviewed publications are quicker for them to evaluate.

As the popularity of preprints and the willingness of publishers to allow them to be shared are still growing, it is understandable that established scientists would be more comfortable reading published manuscripts. Given the important function that peer review plays in publishing research findings, it is unlikely that preprints will ever overtake published manuscripts in readers’ preference. However, any future change in preprint use will certainly be a long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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