Preprints – complete, public drafts of scientific documents that are not yet certified by peer reviewed – are playing a key role in accelerating dissemination of research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, highlighting a need for broader discovery and distribution of early research results in literature searches. Responding to this urgent need, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) has launched the NIH Preprint Pilot, which will test the viability of making preprints searchable in PubMed Central (PMC) and discoverable in PubMed, starting with preprints reporting NIH-supported COVID-19 research. The pilot is expected to run for a minimum of 12 months, and lessons learned during that time will inform future NLM efforts with preprints
The NIH Preprint Pilot builds on the March 2017 NIH Guide Notice (NOT-OD-17-050) which encouraged NIH investigators to use interim research products, such as preprints, to speed the dissemination and enhance the rigor of their work. It also complements PMC’s role as the archive for peer-reviewed author manuscripts supported by NIH under the Public Access Policy, seeking to accelerate broad discovery to these results in cases where investigators choose to post a preprint.
NLM’s efforts for the first phase build on the work of the NIH Office of Portfolio Analysis iSearch COVID-19 Portfolio. NLM is using this resource to identify preprints reporting on COVID-19 research that are authored by NIH staff or by extramural grantees who acknowledge support of an NIH award. The initial COVID-19 collection of preprints added to PMC is expected to grow as curation workflows are refined and expanded.
In future phases, the NIH Preprint Pilot can be extended across the spectrum of NIH research. To minimize effort required by NIH-funded investigators to make their preprints discoverable via PMC, there will not be a new submission process or system to add preprints to PMC. Rather, NLM will work directly with preprint servers, and NIH-funded investigators are strongly encouraged to follow the preprint process outlined in the 2017 Guide Notice:
- Make the preprint publicly accessible (See also the “Guidance for selecting interim research product repositories” in the Guide Notice)
- Acknowledge NIH support/funding
- Clearly state the work is not peer reviewed
- Declare any competing interests
NIH awardees can report preprints on their RPPR and link them to their award in their My Bibliography account. NLM will simplify how to add a preprint citation to My Bibliography in Summer 2020 with the expectation that the pilot will expand to include those preprints reported in My Bibliography as products of NIH awards in PMC. (For guidance on how to currently add a preprint to My Bibliography, see the NIH Preprint Pilot FAQ.)
For investigators looking for preprints, they will be integrated into your usual search results in PMC and PubMed. Both systems will make clear that the articles are preprints and not peer-reviewed journal articles. Prominent banners will explain that the papers have not been peer reviewed and link to information about the pilot for additional context. Users interested in only peer-reviewed articles will be able to filter out preprints from their search results.
In launching this new preprint experiment in PMC, with an initial focus on COVID-19-related preprints, NLM hopes to meet the needs of the research community during the ongoing public health emergency response efforts and to learn more about the impact of accelerated discovery and open sharing of research results on scholarly communications. NLM encourages NIH investigators to explore the pilot FAQs further and send feedback throughout to firstname.lastname@example.org.