Tracking changes between preprint posting and journal publication during a pandemic


Amid the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, preprints in the biomedical sciences are being posted and accessed at unprecedented rates, drawing widespread attention from the general public, press, and policymakers for the first time. This phenomenon has sharpened long-standing questions about the reliability of information shared prior to journal peer review. Does the information shared in preprints typically withstand the scrutiny of peer review, or are conclusions likely to change in the version of record? We assessed preprints from bioRxiv and medRxiv that had been posted and subsequently published in a journal through April 30, 2020, representing the initial phase of the pandemic response. We utilised a combination of automatic and manual annotations to quantify how an article changed between the preprinted and published version. We found that the total number of figure panels and tables changed little between preprint and published articles. Moreover, the conclusions of 7.2% of non-COVID-19–related and 17.2% of COVID-19–related abstracts undergo a discrete change by the time of publication, but the majority of these changes do not qualitatively change the conclusions of the paper.

PLOS Biology

Now accepted in PLOS Biology.

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Jonny Coates
Jonny Coates
Postdoctoral Researcher | Preprints in Motion host | preLighter

Research interests include immune cell biology and meta-research.