eAppendix. Preprint Servers Identification and Topic Selection Process
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Malički M, Jerončić A, ter Riet G, et al. Preprint Servers’ Policies, Submission Requirements, and Transparency in Reporting and Research Integrity Recommendations. JAMA. 2020;324(18):1901–1903. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.17195
Preprint servers are online platforms that enable free sharing of preprints, scholarly manuscripts that have not been peer reviewed or published in a traditional publishing venue (eg, journal, conference proceeding, book). They facilitate faster dissemination of research, soliciting of feedback or collaborations, and establishing of priority of discoveries and ideas.1 However, they can also enable sharing of manuscripts that lack sufficient quality or methodological details necessary for research assessment, and can help spread unreliable and even fake information.2 Since 2010, more than 30 new preprint servers have emerged, yet research on preprint servers is still scarce.3 With the increase in the numbers of preprints and preprint servers, we explored servers’ policies, submission requirements, and transparency in reporting and research integrity recommendations, as the latter are often perceived as mechanisms by which academic rigor and trustworthiness are fostered and preserved.4
We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of, to the best of our knowledge, all known preprint servers that do not limit posting of manuscripts to authors with specific institutional affiliations or study funding (eg, Wellcome Open Research) nor actively seek out peer reviewers (eg, F1000) (see the eAppendix in the Supplement for server identification details). Between January 25 and March 31, 2020, M.M. analyzed servers’ web pages that resembled instructions to authors traditionally found in scholarly journals, as well as servers’ about, policy, and frequently asked questions pages. For each server, M.M. also went through the preprint submission process (without submitting a preprint) to check for additional information in the submission platforms (except for ChinaXiv, which required an email associated with a Chinese institution). Then, M.M. extracted data on explicit mentioning of 7 topics related to preprint policies, 6 to submission requirements, and 18 to transparency in reporting and research integrity that were deemed applicable across disciplines. The topics were informed by our previous analysis of journals’ instructions to authors and topics unique to preprints (see the eAppendix in the Supplement for details).5 On May 29, the number of records that servers hosted was documented, and on July 6, it was documented whether servers allowed health sciences discipline selection during the submission process and whether they hosted more than 500 such preprints (servers’ health sciences categories are listed in the data repository site).
We analyzed 57 preprint servers that hosted approximately 3 million preprints in total. Of those, 10 servers hosted more than 500 health sciences preprints (Table 1). Of the 7 analyzed policies, the most commonly addressed across all servers was screening of preprints before or after they are made public (n = 47 [82%]) (Table 2). Two servers, Preprints.org and Research Square, used a screening checklist (the latter also provided a “badge” of passed checks). The most commonly addressed submission requirements were specifying the scholarly scope of preprints (n = 57 [100%]) and the study type allowed for deposit (n = 31 [54%]). Of the 18 analyzed recommendations on transparency in reporting and research integrity, preprint servers addressed a median of 1 recommendation (range, 0-11), most commonly data sharing (n = 22 [39%]). These recommendations were more prevalent (median, 5; range, 0-11) for the 10 servers with more than 500 health sciences preprints.
Although most preprint servers used screening checks for preprints, they provided little explicit guidance on issues that are important for transparency in reporting and research integrity. Disciplinary differences observed for such recommendations in journals5 were also present for preprint servers, with more recommendations addressed by servers hosting more than 500 health sciences preprints. The study limitations include data extraction by 1 author, that analyzed topics were not comprehensive, and that many topics were more prominently discussed and therefore may be more commonly addressed in the biomedical literature. Also, servers may follow policies and scholarly standards that are not explicitly mentioned on their websites. Nevertheless, there is an opportunity for servers to encourage and require transparent reporting of research, adherence to research integrity standards, and detailed statements of policies and submission requirements. In doing so, they could improve quality and trust in scholarly information exchange.
Corresponding Author: Mario Malički, MD, MA, PhD, Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University, Medical School Office Bldg, 1265 Welch Rd, Stanford, CA 94305 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 21, 2020.
Author Contributions: Drs Malički and Aalbersberg had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Malički, Jerončić, ter Riet, Bouter, Ioannidis, Aalbersberg.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Malički, Jerončić, ter Riet, Goodman, Aalbersberg.
Drafting of the manuscript: Malički.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Malički.
Obtained funding: Aalbersberg.
Supervision: ter Riet, Bouter, Ioannidis, Aalbersberg.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Aalbersberg reported being senior vice president of research integrity for Elsevier, and Elsevier owns the preprint server SSRN. Dr ter Riet reported receiving research grants from Elsevier. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: Elsevier funding was awarded to Stanford University for a METRICS postdoctoral position that supported Dr Malički’s work on the project.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; or decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The roles of Dr Aalbersberg (Elsevier employee) and Dr Malički (postdoctoral support by Elsevier funding) are listed in the author contributions.
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