Preprints — It’s Going to Get Worse

Dozens of documented scandals around preprints, and things are about to get a whole lot worse unless changes are made.

ASAPbio recently appointed a new Executive Director after Jessica Polka left in February to run an open science initiative at a foundation funded by a tech billionaire seeking a cure for aging, among other things.

The new person claims preprints are “at a watershed moment.”

She may be right, in the sense that now people are going to really examine preprints, really exploit preprints, and really embarrass proponents even more than they have done previously.

Like it or not, I’ve become known as a person who writes and knows a lot about preprints, as I’ve documented their shortcomings, scandals, and abuses.

There’s been more than enough to write about. I’m sure I’ve only tackled the tip of a very dirty iceberg — via peer-reviewed papers to a litany of posts. I started down this path with the usual goal — to understand, elucidate, and comprehend.

Preprints continue to be touted — wrongly — as not only sufficient but noble. In our world, I don’t think it’s noble to undermine academic and scientific norms essential to curbing excesses and seeking truth. In addition to being exploited by political operatives and commercial interests, preprints have contributed directly to conspiracies that led to excess death and disability.

Recently, as I’ve been tidying up the archive, I’ve been surprised to find myself coming across posts that make me go, “Hmmm, I forgot about that crazy preprint story.” So, instead of just enjoying those occasional tingles of recognition infused with dismay, I thought I’d do the responsible thing and write out a list of the “Best of the Worst” of preprints . . .

. . . because things are only going to get worse from here, as awareness of the lax standards, sex appeal, and promotional power of these pseudo-papers widens.

There is also a growing awareness of the problems, as my recent survey showed, with strong agreement that preprint servers need to make fundamental changes and that preprints did not help during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Oddly, librarians seem to think preprints helped — possibly due to a profession-centered echo chamber reiterating such false claims — yet still believe the servers need to change.

I’ve added a little explanation when the title alone isn’t self-explanatory. Not all titles are the headlines used for the initial posts.

The “Best of the Worst” in Preprints