The Risks of COVID-19 Pre-print Data

Articles not undergoing peer review are reaching widespread dissemination during the pandemic. What are the implications?

A recent research letter conducted by a team of US investigators compared articles about therapies for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) posted on a preprint server, subsequent medical journals publishing of some of these articles, and journal articles that were not posted on either this server or another.

The investigators, led by Neil Schluger, MD, of the New York Medical College, observed that many articles which had not undergone traditional peer review were already subject to widespread dissemination.

The research letter also found that articles posted as non journal-published preprints received less attention from the public that those that were published.

In an interview with Contagion, Schluger discussed his team’s findings, the implication of an ongoing rush to COVID-19 data-sharing and dissemination, and the overall responsibility of clinicians and media alike to assure that messaging is comprehensive, informed, measured, and helpful for a lay audience that suddenly finds itself heavily invested in clinical academics.

“You do a research article, you publish it in a journal, and you think, ‘Okay, that’s truth, and the whole world is going to change’,” Schluger said. “Then you realize that no one reads those things—they’re inaccessible to many people because they’re written in highly technical language.”