April 23, 2021

Journal Article: “The Evolving Role of Preprints in the Dissemination of COVID-19 Research and Their Impact on the Science Communication Landscape”

The following research article was recently published by PLOS Biology.


The Evolving Role of Preprints in the Dissemination of COVID-19 Research and Their Impact on the Science Communication Landscape


Nicholas Fraser
Leibniz Information Centre for Economics

Liam Brierley
University of Liverpool

Gautam Dey
UCL, London, UK
European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Jessica K. Polka

Máté Pálfy
The Company of Biologists

Federico Nanni
Alan Turing Institute

Jonathon Alexis Coates
University of Cambridge
William Harvey Research Institute
Queen Mary University of London


PLoS Biol 19(4): e3000959
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000959


The world continues to face a life-threatening viral pandemic. The virus underlying the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has caused over 98 million confirmed cases and 2.2 million deaths since January 2020. Although the most recent respiratory viral pandemic swept the globe only a decade ago, the way science operates and responds to current events has experienced a cultural shift in the interim. The scientific community has responded rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic, releasing over 125,000 COVID-19–related scientific articles within 10 months of the first confirmed case, of which more than 30,000 were hosted by preprint servers.

We focused our analysis on bioRxiv and medRxiv, 2 growing preprint servers for biomedical research, investigating the attributes of COVID-19 preprints, their access and usage rates, as well as characteristics of their propagation on online platforms.

Comparison of the properties of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 preprints deposited on bioRxiv and medRxiv between January 1 and October 31, 2020 (Source: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000959.g002)

Our data provide evidence for increased scientific and public engagement with preprints related to COVID-19 (COVID-19 preprints are accessed more, cited more, and shared more on various online platforms than non-COVID-19 preprints), as well as changes in the use of preprints by journalists and policymakers. We also find evidence for changes in preprinting and publishing behaviour: COVID-19 preprints are shorter and reviewed faster. Our results highlight the unprecedented role of preprints and preprint servers in the dissemination of COVID-19 science and the impact of the pandemic on the scientific communication landscape.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.