Many scientific disciplines, like physics and mathematics, routinely communicate research findings through preprints — manuscripts that have not yet gone through the formal peer review, editing, or journal publishing process. However, this is still a relatively novel concept in biology and clinical research. Here on the blog and in a Lancet essay that I coauthored with Harlan Krumholz and Eric Topol, we raised the question of whether the time has come for preprints to be embraced in the clinical research world, and discussed the potential benefits, and caveats, specific to clinical research. A group of scientists interested in promoting preprint use in biology has organized meetings and continues to engage the community in discussion of this issue. Likewise, we at NIH are interested in feedback from you, to get a fuller understanding of the current use of preprints in the broader NIH-supported research community, accepted preprint standards, whether preprints should be included in NIH applications and reports, and how investigators could report them.
Preprints are just a small part of the picture, however. They are part of a larger set of interim research products that could be shared to move research along more quickly, and improve rigor and transparency in the scientific process. One such example is publicly declaring key elements of a research project in advance, such as hypotheses, measures, confirmatory research protocols and analysis plans. Several groups of researchers (for example, Dal-Ré, et al. in Science Translational Medicine) propose that preregistration or prepublishing of research methods can reduce analytical bias, and provide context for the findings eventually reported in preprints and in peer reviewed manuscripts.
Not only are we interested in your current use of preprints and interim research products, but perhaps most importantly we’d like your feedback on the specific standards that need to be in place for their citation, particularly for citation in NIH applications and reports. Such standards could include how the products and preprints are preserved, how authorship attribution and disclosures are provided, and how such products can remain citable and freely accessible while maintaining the anonymity of those accessing the documents.
Please read the NIH Guide notice for additional details on NIH’s interests in this area, and how to submit your comments to us. As always, we welcome your comments on the blog in line with our comment policy, but for your feedback to be included in our formal analysis of responses, it needs to be submitted as described in the notice, and before the November 29 deadline. [Note: The response deadline has been extended to December 9, 2016. – Open Mike Blog Team, 10.21.16]