Publication norms are changing rapidly for science related to the coronavirus pandemic, as scientists worldwide conduct research at breakneck speeds to tackle the crisis. Preprint servers — where scientists post manuscripts before peer review — have been flooded with studies. The two most most popular for coronavirus research, bioRxiv and medRxiv, have posted nearly 3,000 studies on the topic (see ‘Preprint surge’). The servers’ merits are clear: results can be disseminated quickly, potentially informing policy and speeding up research that could lead to the development of vaccines and treatments. But their popularity is spotlighting the scrutiny that these studies receive. Without peer review, it’s hard to check the quality of the work, and sharing poor science could be harmful, especially when research can have immediate effects on medical practice. That has led platforms including bioRxiv and medRxiv, to enhance their usual screening procedures.
To address the need for rapid review, a group of publishers and scholarly-communication organizations announced an initiative last month to accelerate the publication of COVID-19 papers using measures such as asking people with relevant expertise to join a list of rapid reviewers. The initiative’s members include Outbreak Science Rapid PREreview, a platform where researchers can request or provide swift reviews of outbreak-related preprints.