Infodemics

We are deluged with information these days. A simple PubMed search of COVID-19 reveals 4806 articles published since January 1, 2020. Every medical society publishes guidelines, many of which contain information that is not evidence-based. Networks pummel us with supposedly expert commentary. Journalists become opinion leaders overnight, and a multitude of physicians educate us about the effects of coronavirus on everything from health to economics.

It is a strange world when politicians opine about medical treatments, and physicians preach about economic policies and political science. When radiologists suddenly become pandemic experts, and talking heads, regardless of experience, project their expertise without a track record of academic publications.

In addition to this bombardment of information, not all of which is trustworthy or helpful, there are editorials and journal articles presenting biased arguments, complex data, contradictory positions, or erroneous information. In the midst of it all, preprint literature has become popular, and hundreds of non-peer-reviewed papers are disseminated using social media.

I neither critique nor commend those who share their data using preprints. Servers such as bioRxiv and Xiv were designed so authors can communicate their research results speedily and avoid the delays and politics of peer-review haunting many journals. In a way, these vehicles are reminiscent of the way email and fax machines were used in the 1970s and 1980s; communication vehicles for investigators wanting to share information in order to advance the greater good. 

 A novel aspect of preprints is that of Final Preprints. Authors publish their paper as a preprint, then again as a “Final Preprint” after revising their manuscript based on comments and critiques from a broad readership rather than from individual reviewers designated by a journal’s editor. Some investigators chose to never submit their paper to an “official” journal for publication, especially if recognition or CV-building is not crucial to academic promotion. 

I think the future of preprints is exciting. Interesting questions will be raised by editorial board members of many scientific journals. After all, a degree of acceptability is already evident within the scientific community: Many already disseminate preprints using social media. A search engine exists for preprints called PrePubMed2, and even the National Institute of Health has, with its iSearch portfolio, an updated registry of preprints about COVID-193.

References

  1. https://www.nature.com/news/when-a-preprint-becomes-the-final-paper-1.21333
  2. http://www.prepubmed.org
  3. https://icite.od.nih.gov/covid19/search/

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